Online romance scammers fleece Biggleswade victims out of £270,000

Police have today warned people about the dangers of online romance fraud. File photo. Credit: Hyper

Police have today warned people about the dangers of online romance fraud. File photo. Credit: HyperionPixels/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Online romance fraudsters pretending to be army officers or commandos have fleeced six Biggleswade victims out of at least £270,000, police have said.

Police said that over the past six months, fraudsters pretending to be in the armed forces have targeted six men and women in the town – with losses ranging from £40,000 to £70,000.

Posing as an army officer or special forces commando in Iraq or Afghanistan, the confidence trickster builds a romantic relationship with the victim before claiming to need financial support for flights to return to the UK, also asking for accommodation on arrival.

After the money is sent via transfer, it disappears, the visits do not take place, and the victim hears no more from their supposed sweetheart.

Cyber-security advisor Sean O’Neil is encouraging any victims of romance fraud to report it to the police.

“Many victims are embarrassed by what has happened to them and don’t want to report it to the police,” he said.

“But this is often a very elaborate and complex crime with fraudsters taking the time to build a relationship by eliciting sympathy or saying things to tug on the heartstrings.

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“They may also express their love, talk of marriage or of a long-term future within a first few weeks of contact.”

Fraudsters may introduce their need for money by talking about a family member who is ill and needs medical treatment, or by telling the victim they have a great business opportunity.

According to Action Fraud, victims across the UK were conned out of £41 million in 2017 in a total of 3,557 romance swindles.

The financial loss is only part of this crime – according to a February report, some 43 per cent of victims said the fraud had a “significant” impact on their health or financial wellbeing, with many finding it hard to come to terms with losing what they felt was a trusting and real relationship.

Sean stressed that victims can always come to the police.

He said: “All our conversations can be kept confidential – we don’t need to tell other family members.

“Follow our advice if you think you may be involved with someone who is just trying to extract money from you and remember you can discuss any concerns you have with us anytime.”

Action Fraud has published the following tips to help internet users avoid being scammed:

• Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile, and ask plenty of questions.

• Analyse their profile and check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.

• Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.

• Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you’ve met online – no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.

• Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you’re going to be.