Valentine's Day: Surrey Police issue romance fraud warning as online dating fraud rates rise

This Valentine’s Day, Surrey Police is sending out a timely reminder to the public warning them of the dangers of romance fraud, the impact on its victims and the scale of this growing crime type.
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Online dating as a preferred way to meet people has risen considerably over the past few years. Sadly, this has also led to an increase in online dating fraud rates.

Last year across Sussex and Surrey, police saw a 10% increase in reported romance fraud, with losses reaching £2.8 million in 2023. The average loss to a victim, where a loss was reported, is £18,500.

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Whilst Surrey Police does see reports of in-person romance fraud, 89% of victims report being initially contacted online via dating sites, apps or via social media platforms.

This Valentine’s Day, Surrey Police is sending out a timely reminder to the public warning them of the dangers of romance fraud, the impact on its victims and the scale of this growing crime type. Picture contributedThis Valentine’s Day, Surrey Police is sending out a timely reminder to the public warning them of the dangers of romance fraud, the impact on its victims and the scale of this growing crime type. Picture contributed
This Valentine’s Day, Surrey Police is sending out a timely reminder to the public warning them of the dangers of romance fraud, the impact on its victims and the scale of this growing crime type. Picture contributed

Bernadette Lawrie BEM, Sussex & Surrey Police’s Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer, said: "I can't express how important it is for victims of romance fraud to come forward and report it.

“It is a horrible crime and is one of the most under-reported fraud types we see and that is in part because the victims feel embarrassed, ashamed and blame themselves a lot of the time for not seeing the warning signs.

“This is a crime where fraudsters prey on the vulnerable, manipulating and grooming their victims over a lengthy period, isolating them from those closest to them, to enable them to exploit them financially.

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“The impact can be so devastating both emotionally and financially on those individuals and also on their wider family."

“I would encourage people to look out for friends or family members who have entered into a new relationship, which is perhaps becoming intense and moving fast.”

Romance fraud can affect males and females alike and reports come from victims of any age, though the majority are aged 50 or over with the average age being 59. Sixty-three per cent of victims reportedly live alone and loneliness and social isolation can have a significant impact on victims of dating scams.

Due to the increased contact being made via dating apps and social media, Surrey Police has encouraged people to continue communication on regulated dating platforms which are regulated, rather than move the conversation off that platform, as is often encouraged by the fraudsters.

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In one local example provided by Surrey Police, a woman from North Surrey was contacted online in January 2023 by a man purporting to be music artist George Ezra, alongside members of “his team” asking for funds to a special membership group which would allow her to meet him in person.

The woman was persuaded to send £500 in Bitcoin and £720 in gift cards. When there were no funds left to send, she was asked to take out a £5,000 loan, which is when she realised it could be a scam and reported it.

Following an intervention by Surrey Police, under Operation Signature, the force’s process to identify, protect and support vulnerable victims of fraud, the woman was provided with specialist support by Victim Witness Care.

The support provided by the victim’s caseworker, Claire Wonnacott, was a mixture of telephone, face to face and online contact. She was also given access to a romance fraud support group.

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In another local example provided by Surrey Police, a woman from Surrey was in contact with someone they met on the dating site Plenty of Fish.

Over the course of their contact, the victim was persuaded to send a total of £80,000, which was money she had inherited. The scammer fed the victim false information to give to the bank to explain where the money was going.

The woman was also persuaded to take out an £80,000 loan leaving her with repayments of £500 a month, which meant she had to live on £50 a month and use food banks.

The victim realised it could be a scam when the requests for funds and pressure to do so increased, along with a third party also becoming involved. When the scammers produced an image of a passport and a ticket for a flight, the victim decided these weren’t real and alerted Surrey Police.

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The victim was also provided with support through Operation Signature and Victim Witness Care. The support provided by the victim’s caseworker, Kim Cruickshank-Inns, meant the victim was able to recover £40,000 of the funds sent to the scammer and was able to cancel the loan she had taken out.

If you believe you have been a victim of romance fraud, or you have concerns that someone you know may have been targeted by a romance fraudster please contact Surrey Police on 101 to report it.

For further information on how to protect yourself from romance fraudsters, please visit Romance Fraud | Surrey Police.