Police in Richmondshire have issued a warning after an increase in so-called romance fraud.Officers say they have seen a spate of people from the district looking for love on-line but losing thousands of pounds to scammers.
PCSO Helenor Gwatkin is the district’s police fraud ambassador and it is her job to raise awareness of the problem and to speak to victims.
In the last two months she had dealt with around 15 victims of fraud in the district, with around a third of these people who have been victims of romance fraud.
Romance fraud is where a fraudster sets up a fake online dating profile, to form a relationship with a person with the intention to gain their trust and take their money or personal information, in order to steal their identity.
PCSO Gwatkin said: “It’s now a huge problem for us.
“In the past burglars would try to enter your house through the front door or window.
“But now we have people trying to steal via a computer.”
PCSO Gwatkin said the romance fraud was a problem in the district due in part to the high number of elderly people, who were most likely to fall victim to the crime.
The officer said the rural nature of the district also contributed to the problem.
“In my experience the victim’s of romance fraud are often elderly, perhaps they are lonely or isolated and may be reaching out.”
She said victims in the district had handed over tens of thousands of pounds with one woman having to declare bankruptcy after losing £25,000.
Detective Inspector Jonathan Rowland, from North Yorkshire Police’s Major Fraud and Economic Crime team. said: “We don’t want to scare anyone away from using online dating sites and finding relationships online.
“However, we do recommend that people remain aware of the information they are sharing or posting online and be wary of giving away too many personal details when speaking to anyone online.
“A fraudster only needs a few details such as your full name, date of birth or home address in order to piece information together and potentially steal your identity.
“Never share banking details, or send or receive money – even if you believe and trust the person.
“Stay on the site’s messaging service and do not to switch to social media or texting to communicate. It’s also advisable to not open any attachments or links sent to you by someone you have met online.
“If you are going to enter into the online dating world, use a reputable dating website which is a member of the Online Dating Association. ODA members have to commit to an industry code of practice that includes honest communication with users and they have to ensure measures are in place to protect your privacy and provide a mechanism for reporting abuse.”
So how can you spot the signs that your new beau may not be the genuine article?• If they’re asking a lot of personal questions about you, but not sharing too much detail about themselves.
• If they ask for your help, specifically financial help, by using the emotional attachment you’ve built with them.
• Are they just too good to be true? Are their pictures are too perfect, too professional. If yes, then they may be using pictures from modelling sites. It’s an idea to run a reverse image search to check the images haven’t been sourced elsewhere.
Police say that if you think you have fallen for the lies of a romance fraudster, firstly, don’t be too embarrassed to contact the police.
You are not the first person to fall for this type of scam. Romance fraudsters are experienced, serial fraudsters, who are very good at gaining your trust and taking your money.
Sadly, you will not be the only person who has been taken advantage of. Most importantly, don’t send any further money to this person.
The next step is to report in confidence to police, or if you prefer you can contact Action Fraud either online or by calling 0300 123 2040