Stealing hearts, then wallets: ‘Romance fraud’ has cost £1.3m in mid and west Wales since lockdown

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Dreams of finding ‘the one’ have cost people living in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Powys more than £1.3 million, Dyfed-Powys Police has revealed.

Since January losses of more than £1.3million have been reported to the force, with some individuals losing hundreds of thousands of pounds before realising they have been a victim of crime.

“2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, in particular those who have spent many weeks or months in isolation or separated from loved ones,” Rebecca Jones, Fraud Safeguarding Officer, said.

“Normal dating activities have also been forced online as individuals look to connect.

“Romance fraud is a particularly cruel crime as it takes advantage of people’s need for affection,” said Rebecca Jones, Fraud Safeguarding Officer.

“Fraudsters know only too well the lengths people will go to in the search for love or friendship, which is why this huge problem continues to grow.”

 

‘Gutted’

One victim, speaking anonymously, said that she and the fraudster “hit it off and got on really well”..

“He was very attentive, affectionate and funny,” she said.

“It didn’t take that long before he asked me for a loan as he had gone home to sort out family stuff and his bank card had been frozen.  He had no access to money.  He was very distressed on the phone and sounded genuine.  I lent him the money and so the saga began.

“He talked of our future together and all the fun times we would have travelling the world and about the new family I would have when his children returned and how excited they were to see their new mum.

“After about six months I learned that he had been using someone else’s photo – he was a fake!

“I was gutted. My world fell apart. He had taken my love and my dreams and shattered them.

“He was the only person I spoke to, the only one who seemed to care about me, my life was pointless and lonely without him.

“I had fallen in love with this person.”

Money laundering

While the majority of accounts on dating websites are genuine people looking for romance, some will be fraudsters hoping to lure victims in with fake profiles, the police said.

After establishing contact, these criminals will often try to encourage users away from a trusted website onto social media or other messaging platforms, where they can gain further personal information which can be used to steal someone’s identity.

They may prey on people’s generosity or sympathy, saying they have had money stolen, need help paying for transport or a relative’s medical bills, or need a ‘loan’ to cover them until payday.

Some victims may even end up committing crimes without realising it, as so-called ‘money mules’.

“If someone asks you to receive money into your bank account and transfer it into another account or send it on using cryptocurrency or money service bureaus, you are now involved in money laundering – which is a crime,” said Rebecca Jones.

Mental wellbeing

Since January, Dyfed-Powys Police’s fraud team have helped prevent more than £92,000 being lost to criminals.

But, added Rebecca, the sensitive nature of romance fraud means it continues to be severely under-reported.

“People feel ashamed about being tricked, often after having opened up about their desires or private feelings,” she said.

“This is not just about losing money: romance fraud can have a lasting impact on victims’ physical and mental wellbeing, their existing relationships with friends and family, and their ability to trust future potential partners.

“But there is no need to feel embarrassed – these people are professional criminals who deliberately target those seeking a genuine loving relationship.

“We would urge anyone who has concerns about an online relationship, no matter how established, to get in touch.

“This includes family or friends who are concerned about the actions of a loved one.

“It is vital everyone knows the warning signs so they can protect their personal data, their money and their hearts.

“By reporting your suspicions you could help protect yourself or someone else from becoming a victim.”

If you have concerns about a relationship, or fear you or someone you know has been a victim of crime, you can email contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk or call 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired you can text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

As with all crimes, reports are treated in the strictest confidence. Alternatively you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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