Online dating criminals have scammed victims out of a heart-breaking £27 million in the last year, new figures have revealed.
Get Safe Online and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) have found there were almost 130 reports of online dating related crimes reported to police in the in the Midlands in the past 12 months.
This means victims from the region have lost an average of £7,000 each to the fraudsters.
The report also showed how people aged between 50-59 were the most likely victims, accounting for a quarter of all frauds and losing just over £6 million.
The figures highlighted how almost of two thirds of all romance scams originated on dating sites, followed by social media where 25 per cent of scams originated.
Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, said: “Online dating can be a great way to meet that special someone. However, it doesn’t hurt to place a little more caution when using these sites to start talking to someone, just as you would if you met a stranger in a bar or at a party.
“What’s frustrating is that there are a minority of people who use online dating as a forum to target vulnerable people, knowing if they invest a lot of time into building a relationship with someone, they could potentially steal a lot of money.
“This is demonstrated by the huge amount lost to online fating related crimes last year, with the average loss standing at a worrying £10,000.
But as well as the financial loss, Tony said the emotional impact is the most severe part of this crime.
“When someone places a lot of trust and faith in a person who they think they know, they often don’t separate their emotional feelings from rationale. Often when victims do start to suspect something isn’t quite right, they’re already in deep, so it’s extremely easy to ignore those little niggles of doubt and choose to trust someone – it’s this factor which online criminals exploit.
“It’s important to remember that it’s highly unlikely anyone legitimate would ask for any kind of financial assistance for whatever reason. Plus, if there are any immediate doubts, speak to a family member of friend to get a second, more objective opinion. If someone is keen to take contact off the dating site very quickly, this could be a sign that they have something to hide.
If you think that you have been a victim of fraud, contact the non-emergency police number on 101 or Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.