In one incident, a Warwick woman, who did not wish to be named, parted with almost £30,000 after meeting a man online claiming to be an American soldier living in Birmingham.

He persuaded her to forward money to help set up a business deal while he served in Afghanistan, promising to pay her back on his return.

The money was never repaid. DC Tina Athwal, fraud investigator with the economic crime unit for the two forces, said: “As use of the internet for dating purposes increases, so do the number of scams associated with it, and the amount of money lost.

“Once fraudsters have gained the trust of their victims, they begin to request money under the guise of various false eventualities.

“These could be anything from a medical problem they have to claiming to be military personnel based overseas and needing funds for flights home or early discharge.

“In other instances, as the online relationship develops, the exchanges become more intimate and the victims might be asked to share intimate pictures or perform sexual acts in front of a web cam.

“These images or videos are then used by the criminals to blackmail the victim into handing over money.”

In another incident, a South Warwickshire man, who wished to remain anonymous, exchanged messages with an attractive woman via text and e-mails.

They actually met in person and she promised to marry him after visiting relatives in America. He later received an email saying she had spent three months in hospital after a crash in the States and had been fined for overstaying her visa.

The victim sent £26,000, but on closer inspection the paperwork he received was fake and the social network used had no established background, appearing to have been set up as a front.

DC Athwal said people should think twice before taking a relationship “offline” and be extremely wary about sending money to people following internet contact.

“We are dealing with people who become victims as a result of doing nothing more than looking for a relationship and, after believing stories they’ve been told, have parted with large amounts of their hard-earned money.”

She said the following tell-tale signs would help identify an online dating fraudster:

  • They want to communicate through instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room where you met.
  • They ask lots of questions about you but don’t tell much about themselves.
  • They quickly start calling you by a pet name or use endearing terms such as “darling.”
  • They don’t answer basic questions about where they live and work.
  • Their profile picture is too perfect.
  • They start asking you to send money using a number of different scenarios.
  • They’ve arranged to visit you but need money to pay travel costs.

 

If you are a victim of romance fraud, or suspect you are dealing with a fraudster, report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 2040 or by visiting www.actionfraud. police.uk