Woman lost £5,000 to romance fraudster posing as Yorkshire TV chef James Martin
Nottinghamshire Police said the scam is part of a trend where fraudsters pose as celebrities on dating profiles in a bid to lure fans. Reports of romance fraud have "soared" in recent years, the force said, but the true extent of it remains unknown as many victims are too embarrassed to come forward.
The force revealed it received 12 reports of such cases last month and another 11 in August. Three of these involved celebrity impersonators who created fake profiles to 'catfish' their victims into handing over money.
The woman scammed by the James Martin impersonator initially ignored three Facebook messages before the scammer managed to convince her he was the ITV star. The fraudster eventually persuaded her to lend them money, which was never repaid.
In another case, a vulnerable woman was persuaded to purchase and transfer Steam Gift Cards after believing she had been talking to Il Divo singer Urs Buhler for two months. A third woman was tricked into sending explicit images to a romance fraudster she believed was Take That frontman Gary Barlow.
The fraudster threatened to share the images, which she sent to them on TikTok, with her friends and family.
Detective Sergeant Tara Clapperton from the force's fraud prevention team said the scammers tend to target their victims on dating apps or social media, but often then try to move the conversation onto other platforms such as WhatsApp.
They will often claim to be living or working abroad to explain why they cannot meet in person and will invent reasons not to turn their camera on during calls.
Eventually they will start to tell stories about family or legal issues, business problems or medical bills, she added.
They may be reluctant to accept help at the beginning but this is "all part of the con", and victims eventually end up being persuaded to send more and more money.
She added: "A lot of people hear about these scams and think 'I wouldn't be taken in by that'. But these scams are clever and that's why it's really important people exercise vigilance communicating with others online.
"Online dating can be a fun and empowering experience, but to avoid becoming a victim to romance fraud, it's really important people follow some really simple advice: If you've started an online relationship and the discussion turns to money - regardless of the reason or the amounts involved - then alarm bells should be ringing.
"Never send money to people you've never met in person, no matter how much you've spoken online. Talking to a real-life friend or family member can be a good way to sense check what's going on."