Valentine's Day warning: criminals steal your heart and then your cash

If you think you've met your perfect match online, make sure the person you've fallen for is only looking to steal your heart...

Tuesday, 14th February 2017, 2:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th February 2017, 12:36 pm

Humberside Police is currently supporting three victims from the region who have lost thousands of pounds to con artists they met through online dating sites.

And on Thursday, cyber crime experts will be hosting a short Facebook Live event from noon to answer any questions you may have about keeping yourself safe, as officers fear that there may be many more victims who are either still being scammed or are too embarrassed to come forward.

In all three cases, the male victims met a woman via online dating who claimed to be a self-employed gold and diamond dealer.

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After building up an online relationship with her victims, she then claimed to be travelling to Malaysia to purchase gold and asked to borrow money for documentation, taxes and other unexpected expenses that she claimed would be reimbursed on her return to the UK.

One Goole man lost £23,520, a second Goole man lost £700 and a Scunthorpe man lost £2,570, before realising they had been taken in and reporting the matter to police.

In a fourth case currently under investigation, a Grimsby woman was persuaded to hand over £2,000 to a man she formed a relationship with via social media who claimed to be an overseas doctor.

Detective Inspector Rich Osgerby said: “The impact on those targeted by these criminals should not be underestimated.

“It can ruin lives, both financially and emotionally. Those responsible spend time getting their victims to build up a real emotional bond, so when that trust is broken it can be devastating.

“The financial impact can also be huge. When you take into account that the average amount lost by UK victims of dating fraud is now said to be £10,000, it’s no surprise that many people get into debt.”

And such scams are not unique to our area, with an average of one dating scam being reported to Action Fraud every three hours.

DI Osgerby added: “Between 2015 and 2016 there were 3,889 reported incidents in the UK, which led to losses of almost £40 million.

“However, evidence suggests this may only be the tip of the iceberg, as so many victims are too embarrassed to come forward and report what has happened.

“What we would say to them is not to be ashamed or concerned about coming to us. We can help you and, by doing so, you could also help to ensure that others aren’t also taken in by the same people.”

There are also steps you can take to help minimise the risk of being targeted by dating fraud and we are supporting a ground-breaking joint initiative between Victim Support, Age UK, City of London Police, Get Safe Online and the Online Dating Association to spread the word of how to do just that.

These #DateSafe tips include:

Get to know the person, not the profile. Ask plenty of questions and don’t rush into an online relationship.

Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.

Talk to friends and family about your online dating. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.

Never send money to someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you have been speaking to them.

Don’t move the conversation off the dating site messenger until you’re confident they are who they say they are.

Support is also available for those who have been targeted.

Neil Masters, the national fraud and cyber crime lead for Victim Support, said: “We want to encourage anyone who may have been affected by this to seek help.

“People shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed if they have been tricked in this way. We offer free and confidential support to help people move on with their lives, regardless of whether or not what’s happened has been reported to the police.”

If you’re concerned you or someone you know is a victim of dating fraud, call 101, or report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.