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PCC issues Valentine’s Day scam warning after romance fraudsters con daters out of £100k in one month

POLICE and Crime Commissioner Darryl Preston is warning people to stay alert to dating scammers after new figures revealed romance fraud had cost victims more than £100k across the county – in just one month.

Speaking ahead of Valentine’s Day, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Police and Crime Commissioner said in January 2023 alone, 11 romance frauds had been reported in the county totaling a loss of some £104,850. This is even higher than December’s figures which saw eight romance frauds reported, amounting to losses of almost £85,500.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) figures also show there were 4,341 cases of fraud (all types) reported from victims living in Cambridgeshire between December 2021 and December 2022 – totalling a loss of £15.8m.

Romance fraud – otherwise known as dating scams – is used to describe circumstances where a victim is deceived into a ‘false’ relationship with a fraudster whose aim is to steal their money or personal information. 

Suspects spend a significant amount of time gaining the victim’s trust during a ‘grooming period’, using language to manipulate, persuade and exploit so that they do not raise any alarm bells. Once trust is secured, the scammers convince the victim to hand over large sums of money or financial assistance for highly-emotive reasons such as emergency medical care.

Victims face the added trauma of recovering from the emotional deception as well as the financial loss – and often lose trust in people altogether.

With the rise in social media and dating apps, romance fraudsters are increasingly turning to dating platforms to dupe their unsuspecting victims, hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.

In one recent incident in Cambridgeshire, a woman met a man purporting to be a pipeline engineer living in St Kitts on a dating app in October 2022. The perpetrator asked her to move to the platform WhatsApp two days later and within four days had told her he loved her.

After four weeks, the offender said he needed money because a pipeline he was working on had exploded. The victim transferred £4,200 to Dubai from her bank account. However, the offender said he needed more cash because of other problems relating to the pipeline and the victim opened a Revolute account and transferred £2,000 and another £2,500. She also took out a loan for £1,700 to send to the scammer.

The man said he wanted a further £76k and when she told him she could not pay this, he blocked her from contacting him.

Darryl said: “This appalling experience serves as a reminder that romance fraudsters are operating in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, preying on unsuspecting men and women looking for love.

“Fraudsters will go to extreme lengths to carry out a successful scam, spending hours researching and identifying potential victims’ and investing an even greater period of time gaining that person’s trust. Internet technology has also provided them with a global victim base.

“The emotional hurt of such a crime, not to mention the financial loss, can leave a deep psychological impact on victims. As we approach this Valentine’s Day, I would urge anyone looking for friendship or romance to remain on their guard – romance scammers are masters of manipulation, stay alert to the signs and protect your money and personal information at all costs.”

Cambridgeshire Constabulary is pioneering new ways to fight fraudsters and has increased support for victims. They have a unique, two-pronged approach to fraud and cybercrime. They have established one team which investigates reports of fraud and another team which works to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Officers also work closely with the UK’s national reporting centre Action Fraud to individually contact each victim of fraud in Cambridgeshire that has been identified. The team offer support and advice to help victims cope in the wake of the crime and to protect themselves in the future.

Detective Sergeant James Weston of the Fraud and Cyber Team, from Cambridgeshire Constabulary, said: “Fraudsters are ruthless when it comes to targeting victims within Cambridgeshire, they act indiscriminately and their sole goal is to get as much money as they can using tried and tested tactics.

“Unfortunately, romance scams are incredibly common, with the scammers preying on individuals who may be vulnerable or isolated. Victims often tell the police that they are embarrassed when reporting the fraud as they feel they should have realised sooner that something was amiss before losing money.

“Our advice is to always be vigilant talking to persons online and be suspicious of any requests for money from someone you have never met in person.”

The Force says that it does not matter how long a person has been talking to someone online, or how much they think they trust them, they should never:

  • Send them any money
  • Allow them access to a bank account
  • Transfer money on their behalf
  • Take a loan out for them
  • Provide copies of personal documents such as passports or driving licences
  • Invest money on their behalf or on their advice
  • Purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes
  • Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc)

Anyone who believes they have been a victim of a romance scam (or any type of fraud) should report it to Action Fraud as soon as possible at: