As loved up couples prepare to celebrate their relationships on Valentine's Day, police have issued a warning to help protect people from romance frauds.
Romance fraud occurs when a victim thinks they’ve met the perfect partner online either through a dating app, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or other form of social media, but the perpetrator is hiding being a fake profile.
The person gains a victim’s trust over a number of weeks or months, making them believe they are in a loving and caring relationship, but the criminal’s end goal is only ever to get their money or personal information.
Anne Townson, from the Fraud Safeguarding Team in Lancashire, said: “Criminals are experts at impersonating people. They spend hours researching victims for their scams.
“Romance fraud takes on many guises with scammers, going from over the top affectionate to downright vicious when they don’t get what they want. They will try anything to extort money from their victim.
“Once a victim is caught up in this cycle it can have catastrophic effects on them mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially.
“It can wreck lives, with victim’s losing their life savings and pensions, or even re-mortgaging their homes to provide their ‘loved one’ with the money they ask for.”
Of the reports received in 2021, 20 per cent of victims were aged 50 to 59, 18 per cent were between 40 and 49, and 17 per cent were 30 to 39.
Here are some warning signs to watch out for:
They start asking for money early on in the relationship.
They make excuses for why they can’t meet up with you yet.
They avoid showing their face in pictures or using video chat.
They use stock photos or photos that don’t match up with their identity.
They use poor grammar and spelling, which indicate they’re not who they say they are.
They ask for personal information like credit card details, bank details, driving licence or passport information.
They make up stories about why they need money.
Fraudsters will also ask for an exchange of intimate photographs (theirs will be fake) which they will then use to coerce and blackmail their victim into giving them even more money and in return they will not share the photographs with the victim’s family and friends.
Anne continued: “This is known as sextortion and although it is used across all age groups, it’s particularly relevant for younger people.
“The suspect may say that they’re a young female in the UK, when chances are they’re a middle-aged male in a foreign country.
“We have had crimes where intimate images have been shared with a victim’s employer. Support and advice can be given by Victim Support. They also have a department specifically for younger people.”
Talk to your bank about this scam if you are a victim of romance crime.
If you are struggling emotionally then speak to your GP, family, friend or Victim Support about it.