imageOn what's intended to be the most romantic day of the year, we want to warn those who may be looking for love online, to always exercise a little caution.

Online dating is a growing trend amongst singletons of all ages, making it easier than ever to meet new people, make friends, and potentially find love.

However there's a darker side to dating websites that provides a rife hunting ground for fraudsters, looking for vulnerable people to trick out of vast sums of money, through the promise of a romantic relationship.

The anonymity of these platforms makes it easy for tricksters to make contact, begin an innocent enough conversation, which creates the start of a relationship, reeling the victim in. Then relatively quickly the conversation is often moved onto another platform, which makes it harder to trace and the dating websites no longer have control.

Then the requests for money will begin. They'll give a justifiable reason, perhaps it's the airfare to visit their beloved, or a family member needs urgent medical treatment and they're asking for help. The cash is then transferred several times, often to overseas bank accounts, making it incredibly difficult to track.

Sucked in by the dream of genuine romance, victims in Wiltshire have been conned out of huge sums of money, on average £8,000, but has been up to an extortionate £180,000. This can lead to utter devastation for those who have been affected and in extreme cases has resulted in suicide. The issue goes largely unreported due to the embarrassment and shame felt once the realisation of what's happened sets in.

Fraud Manager, Jon Lee, commented "Suspects are heartless and prey on the most vulnerable, but this is an easily preventable crime. A few simple background checks when you're first talking to someone will give you a good indication if who you're talking to is really who they say they are. If you think they're too good to be true, maybe they are.

"Talk to a close friend or family member to run the situation by them, they'll be a good reality check. Never disclose personal information to someone who you've never met and keep conversations on the original platform. Certainly never transfer money to someone you made contact with through an online dating platform."

It's important to remember the vast majority of profiles are genuine so don't be discouraged. However, if you think you may have been a victim of romance fraud or suspect someone you're talking to could be a fraudster, report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk or call 101 for advice.

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