One incident of dating fraud is now being reported around every three hours, according to an initiative warning of the dangers of con artists preying on people looking for romance.
Around seven reports of dating fraud on average are received every day by Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting service, equating to around one every three hours.
Typically, victims will make their first transfer of money to the fraudster within a month of contact. The average victim of dating fraud loses £10,000 according to the findings released ahead of Valentine’s Day on Tuesday.
The figures were released as Victim Support, Age UK, the City of London Police, London Metropolitan Police and Get Safe Online said they would work in partnership with the Online Dating Association in efforts to better understand how fraudsters operate and reduce the number of people falling victim to dating fraud.
Tips for people using dating websites and apps using the hashtag datesafe will be shared online.
Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, said that while many couples do meet online, the problem of cyber criminals targeting people for significant financial gain is growing.
He said: “£10,000 is a staggering amount for the average online dater to lose to a fraudster who they’ve been led to believe is the real deal. It’s not just the financial loss though; dating fraud can have a huge emotional impact on a victim too.”
He said in some cases, people had lost everything - including their savings and their homes.
He said: “Anyone who has fallen in love knows how easy it is to get swept up in the romance of it all and let their heart rule their head, so we’re urging people to take a little caution when meeting someone new online.”
Commander Chris Greany, City of London Police and national co-ordinator for economic crime said: “These crimes destroy lives and the emotional damage often far outweighs the financial loss.
“Never give money to people you meet online, no matter what emotional sob story the person uses.”
Those behind the initiative said that across 2016, nearly £40 million was lost through dating fraud. This is believed to be the tip of the iceberg, as many victims are thought to be too embarrassed to report what has happened.
Nearly half (45%) of victims who reported incidents to Action Fraud said that the crime had a significant impact on their health or financial wellbeing.
Neil Masters, national fraud and cyber crime lead at Victim Support, said: “Dating fraud can shatter people’s lives both financially and emotionally and we know that losing what felt like a trusting and very real relationship is often what is most difficult to come to terms with.
“We want to encourage anyone who may have been affected by this to seek help. People shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed if they have been tricked in this way.”
Andrew McClelland, chief executive of the Online Dating Association said fraudsters will often try to move victims away from online dating services as soon as they can, “so we encourage users to continue communicating via the dating service which helps dating providers to detect fraudulent behaviour”.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK, said feelings of loneliness can increase an older person’s vulnerability to fraudsters.
She said: “With a quarter of dating fraud victims in their 50s, it’s really important for older people to be aware of this kind of crime.”