Authorities have reported a significant increase in romance fraud during the coronavirus pandemic. Dyfed-Powys police said criminals are taking advantage of people's loneliness during the lockdown, citing victims in west Wales getting scammed out of £1.3 million by people they have met online.
Rebecca Jones, fraud safeguarding officer for the force, said men and women aged 18 to 88 years old looking for love online had been targeted by such fraudsters, the BBC reported.
"Without a doubt, we've seen an increase from the initial lockdown. It's a case of people turning to an online relationship during that lonely period and now we're seeing the repercussions of that," Jones said.
Between August 2019 and August 2020, Action Fraud received an alarming amount of 400 reports each month. The victims were said to have been virtually romanced and scammed out of an average of £10,000 each.
Since June thru August of this year, authorities reported up to 600 incidents called in every month through their hotline, indicating an obvious increase brought on by the pandemic.
A widow who was scammed out of her life savings by a man she met on a dating app said she met an "attentive, affectionate and funny" man who told her he was widowed, and she fell in love.
But the widow, who lives in west Wales, said her online love soon asked her for a loan because his bank card supposedly had been frozen. However, six months after she sent him the money she found out he had been using someone else's photo as his. But the man managed to convince her he was the real deal and she continued to send him money despite her nagging suspicions.
The woman also said she was somehow lured into becoming his "money mule" with him sending money into her account and telling her to deposit the money to people he owed. Her bank eventually noticed the suspicious transactions and notified the police. They froze her account and she lost all her life savings.
Police expressed concern that with further lockdowns, more people could fall victim to these fraudsters. They urged people to be more wary and look for warning signs such as if they have profile pictures that look "too perfect." Sticking to more reliable dating websites and apps can also help filter out these shady characters.