Lincolnshire Trading Standards is advising those who are looking to start a new relationship online or via a dating app to watch out for romance fraud.
Sally Gray, senior trading standards officer at Lincolnshire County Council, explains: "Online dating can be a great way to find romance and companionship.
"Unfortunately it's also a very common way for scammers to target people, try and form relationships, and ultimately steal money from you."
The council has shared the story of Tracey*, a Lincoln woman who fell for the charms of a scammer she met online.
"A man on Facebook asked to be my friend, and I was in a bad place at the time so I thought 'well, there's nothing wrong with having a male friend'", Tracey said. "So I started chatting with him and straight away he kind of started to get friendly with me, and it progressed".
The scammer coaxed Tracey away from Facebook and onto a private messaging app, where their conversations could get more personal, and would be encrypted and untraceable.
As the relationship progressed, Tracey began to notice what she called 'discrepancies' in her conversations with him, and when he sent her a copy of a flight ticket he said he'd bought to come and visit her.
"I started to get suspicious, so I researched him and, eventually that's how I found him out", she says.
When Tracey realised she'd fallen for a scammer, she was devastated. "He'd made me fall in love with him and when I found out I was just heartbroken completely. I wouldn't want anyone else to go through that.
"It made me feel worthless and it made me feel ugly."
Tracey is reluctant to disclose how much money she sent to the fraudster before finding him out. Shockingly, across the UK, victims of romance fraud lose an estimated £50m each year.
Sally Gray continued, "Unfortunately, the shame and humiliation victims of fraud feel means they often are afraid to get help and report their scammer. As such, we may never know the full extent of the problem.
"There are steps you can take to keep yourself, your family and friends safe from scammers online, and I'd urge residents to be careful not to fall for a scammer, at Valentine's Day, or any other time of year."
If you have you think you have been the victim of fraud, or you know this is happening to someone, contact the Police on 101 or report to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
If somebody has been affected by fraud and scams - even if they have chosen not to report the crime to the police – Victim Lincs can provide emotional support and practical advice. You can contact the service 01522 947510 or [email protected].
Top five tips to help you steer clear of a romance fraud:
- Take your time. Get to know the person and ask plenty of questions.
- Analyse their profile. Check the person is genuine by putting their details (photo and name) in to Google. Also put the phrase ‘dating scam’ in next to their details.
- Talk more. Talk to your friends and family about who you are talking to online. Be suspicious of anyone who asks you to keep quiet about your relationship.
- Don’t give money. Never send money or share your bank details with someone you’ve met online.
- Don’t overshare personal details. Revealing your full name, date of birth, home address or workplace could lead to fraud, identity theft or even personal harm. Protect the names, details, and locations of your children or family members.
For more information on keeping safe from fraud, visit www.actionfraud.police.uk.
*Tracey's name has been changed to protect her identity.