People in the West Mercia Police area looking for romance on the internet are being warned to guard against fraudsters who will leave them broken-hearted.
The police warning follows a recent rise in the number of online romance scams identified in the force area of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Worcestershire.
Robin Longmore, from the Economic Crime Unit, said: “The number of reports dropped dramatically about a year ago following publicity concerning a woman who was tricked into giving nearly £40,000 to a conman who wooed her for several months on the internet and then over the phone.
“However, it appears we are being blighted by romance scams once again. There has been a big increase in recent months and we suspect some members of the public have lowered their guard and consequently more victims are being identified.”
Mr Longmore, a Financial Intelligence Development Officer, said: “We are particularly concerned that people are inadvertently acting as ‘money mules’ in such scams, allowing their bank accounts to be used to launder criminal funds from other similar scams.
“They may not realise this at the time as they are caught up in the excitement of a possible romance, but they may just find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they engage in such activity.
“We have seen on numerous occasions, members of the public allowing funds to be transferred into their accounts having been told by the scammer that their own account has been compromised or some other similar reason.
“They are then asked to move the funds on to another person, or more usually, asked to withdraw the funds and send them overseas via a money service business.”
He said internet dating sites were a major source for scammers to identify victims and advised anyone suspecting they may be a target, to report it to the site concerned and also to Action Fraud through the website www.actionfraud.police.uk/reportfraud or via its phone number 0300 123 2040. Also, most importantly, no money should be sent and contact should be broken off immediately.
Mr Longmore said it was difficult to get a true picture of the scale of romance scams as such offences were under-reported. “People don’t want to admit they are victims, or they are too embarrassed to make a complaint.
“Broken hearts and disappointment are obvious risks in online dating. However, people need to be aware of how to keep themselves safe from fraud while meeting people through the internet.”
The following measures will help give protection against romance scams:-
• Trust your instincts. If you think something feels wrong, it probably is.
• Guard your privacy. Don’t let anyone pressure you into giving away more information than you feel comfortable with.
• Do not post personal information, such as phone numbers, on dating sites.
• Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know and trust.
• Never agree to accept funds for onward transmission. It is likely this will be money stolen from other victims and you are being used to launder it.
• A number of frauds are operated from overseas – be wary of communications with people outside the UK. Also, be aware that someone may tell you they are in the same country as you when they are not.
• Never reply to communications from someone you meet on a dating site or chat room and then wants to continue the communication by email.
• Choosing a well-run, reputable online dating service will provide some additional safety over those you have not heard of.
• Choose a site that will enforce its policies against inappropriate use.