Wiltshire Police have issued a warning about a rise in romance fraud and urged people not to send money to someone they have never met in person.

Romance fraud occurs when criminals gain a victim’s trust to convince them they are in a genuine relationship and to send them money – targeting them financially, emotionally and psychologically.

Wiltshire Police say there have been 115 cases in the last year, amounting to a total loss of £650,000, and reports have risen by 8.4 per cent across the UK.

They are warning people not to send any money or gift cards to someone they have never met, or allow them access to a bank account, take out a loan for them, give them copies of personal documents like a passport, invest their own money on their behalf or advice or agree to receive or send parcels on their behalf.

Detective Constable Fraud Protect Officer, Rachel Davies, said: “We’re seeing growing numbers of victims to romance fraud across the county but it’s still shocking to see increases of nearly 10 per cent in reports over the last year.

“However, we’re aware there will be cases which go unreported as unfortunately some victims will blame themselves or be too embarrassed about the situation.

"We encourage everyone to come forward who may have been a victim to this horrible and devastating crime, you could also help prevent it from happening to someone else. Sharing intelligence can really help us learn their tactics and increase changes of catching those responsible.

“We understand victims of romance fraud not only often suffer significant financial losses, but also face the psychological and emotional impact of losing a perceived partner and support system, especially after having been manipulated and deceived in such a callous, calculated way.

“If you believe you may be involved in romance fraud and would like confidential advice, please do contact me to talk through your concerns. Get in touch by calling 101 and asking for PC 1682 Rachel Davies.”

Of the reports made, 45 per cent were from online dating sites, 41 per cent were made through social media and 12 per cent were via communications platforms and police have also found that criminals are increasingly targeting people on social media and communications platforms rather than dating sites. 

They also believe criminals are now using cold outreach methods to approach potential victims, such as ‘wrong number’ messages and hacked social media accounts and both men and women can be affected – with 42 per cent of reported cases from male victims and 58 per cent affecting female victims.

Romance fraud is within the top five most commonly reported frauds to Action Fraud and if you believe you have been a victim, contact your bank immediately and report it at www.actionfraud.police.uk or call 0300 123 2040. 

Wiltshire Police has issued the following advice:

  • If you have met someone via a dating app, stay within the messaging function and don’t feel pressured to hand over your mobile number and move the conversation over to SMS or a messaging platform like Whatsapp or Telegram.

  • Be suspicious of any requests for money from someone you have never met in person.

  • Be cautious about how much personal information you are sharing online and who you are sharing information with.

  • Speak to your family or friends to get advice and perspective. Fraudsters will subtly isolate you for their own purposes.

  • Profile photos may not be genuine and performing a reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere or someone else.