More than £2.5m was lost last year by 157 Sussex victims of ‘romance fraud’, according to police.
Sussex Police are supporting a national Action Fraud warning to the public to spot the signs ahead of Valentine’s Day.
Reports made to Action Fraud reveal that nationally £50,766,602 was lost to romance fraud in 2018 – an average of £11,145 per victim and a 27% increase on the previous year.
In Sussex during 2018, 157 victims lost a total of £2,561,906, with an average loss of £16,318.
A total of 127 out of 157 attempts succeeded; 61% of victims live alone and their average age is 65.
PC Bernadette Lawrie BEM, Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex & Surrey Police said: “Romance fraud, accounts for 10% of all vulnerable victim fraud reports across our counties and is one of the most despicable crimes we see, with the devastating and lasting impact it has on victims going far beyond the financial loss.
“Victims are targeted and exploited when they are at their most vulnerable and the complex tactics and deceitful tales that lure the victims into parting with such huge sums of money are quite astonishing.
“One of the most difficult conversations we have is telling a victim that not only will they not see their money come back but that the person they believe they are in a relationship with and are looking forward to a future with, is in fact a criminal posing under a false identity.
“The involvement of two case workers, funded by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner (SPCC) Katy Bourne, and working through Victim Support, who support vulnerable victims who have been systematically targeted by criminals, is a valuable addition to to our efforts, in particular in relation to romance fraud.”
The pair follow up on referrals from Operation Signature, Sussex Police’s project which identifies and support vulnerable victims of fraud.
Katy Bourne said; “I’m very proud to have funded these case workers. They have achieved so much, offering invaluable emotional support as well as practical advice to some of our most vulnerable residents. It’s particularly heartening that out of the hundreds of clients they have supported, so little have been referred back to them. This really does show the valuable work they are doing to enable people to better protect themselves from future victimisation.”
Detective Inspector Mark O’Brien of the Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit said; “Operation Signature is the Sussex Police campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud across the county. Fraud is becoming more complex and deceptive, and much of it is targeted at vulnerable and elderly people.”
The force has a process for recognising victims of all fraud as victims of crime and providing preventative measures to support and protect them from further targeting.
This can include helping them to change their phone number to an ex-directory number, contacting family to suggest Power of Attorney, mail re-direction, offering them advice on call blocking devices and referring them to other support services.
Police also raise awareness of the issue within local communities through local Prevention teams, and news and social media, encouraging people to take preventative steps.
How to stay clear of romance fraud
Police advice is;
- never send or give money to anyone you don’t know or trust
- check people are who they say they are; don’t share your personal information; make decisions in your own time
- if in doubt phone a relative or a friend.