Why police want you to talk to friends who have struck up new relationships online

It is perhaps the most cruellest of frauds. Not only are victims conned of their life savings but the psychological and emotional trauma can stay with them forever.

Police are encouraging people to talk to anyone they know who has got into a new relationship online and explain more about romance fraud.

Now, a police fraud investigator has pledged to tackle and prevent a rise in the number of romance fraud offences.

Between January and March this year, victims of romance fraud in the Humberside Police area lost a staggering £361,000. This is a stark increase from April to September last year, where the figure stood at £170,000.

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Detective Sergeant Ben Robinson from Humberside Police's economic crime unit admits it is a big increase and is something he is keen to clamp down on.

He said: "Romance fraud is a a particular scam I want to prevent because the offences that take place have a significant psychological affect and emotional impact on the victim. If you are in a relationship and that comes to an end have to deal with that trauma as well.

"They key message I want to get out there is never send money to anyone you have never met and take steps to verify that the story and this person actually exists. You can go on to Action Fraud or report any concerns to us."

What is romance fraud?

Fraudsters tend to contact their victims over social media portraying to be someone they are not, with the aim of seeking a new relationship.

Detective Sergeant Robinson said: "These fraudsters use a similar type of method where they will spark up a relationship with somebody, but won't ask for money originally.

"After a while they will say they are somehow due to come into a lot of money and they will produce 'evidence' on emails or supposed contracts which show this.

"They will be texting or contacting that person all the time as long as that person is sending over the money.

"Even more sinister they tell their victim they have been involved in an accident and have been robbed and had all their money taken. This is playing on the victim's heart strings."

Prevention is the key

The majority of the fraudsters who commit romance fraud do not live in the country, which makes it difficult for the police to return the money to the victim.

Detective Sergeant Robinson said: "Once a victim's money goes abroad then it is gone.

"We cannot arrest our way out of it if that makes sense - preventing and empowering people with the knowledge is the most important way to get the message across.

"If you are in a relationship with someone you have never met before take as many steps as possible to verify that person. That could be checking any photos they send you for authenticity or even asking them to send a picture of them posing with today's newspaper. If they are not prepared to do that then alarm bells should start ringing."

"Do not send money to anyone. If you are in a relationship with someone you have never met before they are not going to send you a trunk full of money or transfer you $5 million into your account just because they showed you a contract, it isn't going to happen."

Talk to your friends and family

Police are encouraging people to talk to anyone they know who has got into a new relationship online and explain more about romance fraud.

Detective Sergeant Robinson said: "If someone you know is talking about or has talked about a new relationship they have struck up online, tell them about this and tell them this kind of thing does happen.

"If they want advice, there is plenty of advice out there on our websites and on other links."

What happens to victims of fraud?

Police are keen to help and support anyone who has been a victim of fraud.

Vulnerable victims in the Humberside Police area will receive visits from the community team over a four-month period where officers will work to identify what made that person become a victim.

Detective Sergeant Robinson said: "We will put bespoke support packages around victims and seek their permission from them to let a trusted other know what has gone on so they can look out for them and make sure they are not a victim of fraud again."

Humberside Police has created the Little Book of Big Scams which has further information on the type of frauds, advice and where to go if you have been a victim of fraud. This will be sent out to residents across the area and has been made possible thanks to funding from the police and crime commissioner's office.

Further information is available on the force's website.