Romance fraud in Sussex: police warn people looking for love after £4 million stolen
Sussex Police are warning residents to be vigilant when looking for love online and not to become a victim of romance fraud.
They said people aged 30-59 accounted for half of all romance fraud cases across Sussex in 2021 and that there are almost as many men who are victims as women.
More than £4 million pounds was taken from people in Sussex who fell victim to this crime last year, police said.
A Sussex Police spokesperson said that one victim, Anna (not her real name), who is in her 50s, is now getting help from Victim Support Sussex.
“Anna believed she was in a genuine relationship with Andrew for more than two years when she realised she’d been the victim of a romance fraud and reported this to Sussex Police in October with financial losses amounting to around £350,000,” the police spokesperson said.
“She joined the dating website Zoosk in February 2019 after four years of being single and met Andrew who told her that he was a Bulgarian food importer living in London and said they had an immediate connection,” police said.
Police added that Andrew had showered Anna with love and affection, and that five-weeks after their initial connection, he asked her for money to help him through a ‘temporary business crisis’.
These requests for financial help became more frequent, police said.
The police spokesperson said: “Anna says that there were multiple occasions she voiced suspicions about these scenarios to Andrew, but that he made her question her own reality.”
Anna and Andrew had actually taken part in video calls but Andrew used technology to superimpose a moving image, police said.
The spokesperson said: “Finally, at the stage where Andrew claimed to being held as a hostage in Paris and tortured by loan sharks over unpaid debts, Anna, in her own self-declared desperation and anxiety, put out a social media alert for help regarding his possible whereabouts.
“It was at this point, she was then contacted by a lady in France responding to this appeal for information.
“She advised Anna that the photo of Andrew actually related to a famous actor in South America and that Anna had been deceived by an online fraudster.”
Anna reported what had happened to Action Fraud and got involved with Sussex Police and Victim Support Sussex.
Sussex Police said 427 reports of romance fraud were made to Operation Signature to identify, protect, and support victims of fraud.
Most of these incidents reported in 2021 took place in West Sussex (56 per cent), with under a third reported in East Sussex (30 per cent) and almost half reported in Brighton and Hove (14 per cent).
Bernadette Lawrie BEM, the Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex Police, said: “With more and more people turning to online platforms to form relationships this cruel and heartless crime is on the rise.”
She said fraudsters prey on the loneliness of victims to exploit money and since the start of the pandemic police have seen increases in romance fraud because social interactions have been limited.
Bernadette suggested using the DATES advice for anyone who seeking a relationship:
Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile: ask plenty of questions.
Analyse their profile – confirm the person’s identity. 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 – be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
Evade scams – never send money or share your bank details with someone you’ve only met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.
Stay on the dating site messenger service – don’t use email, phone, social media or other messaging apps until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.
Police estimate that 7,550 potential victims have been prevented from making contact with a scammer thanks to the 99 images and 52 emails which have been submitted to Scamalytics.
People can report a scammer making contact with them, as well as fraudulent material relating to romance fraud, to Scamalytics here.
Police said it is common for people who have experienced this type of fraud not to tell the people close to them what has happened.
They said some of the most common methods of communication with fraudsters is WhatsApp, dating sites and Facebook.