Internet users in Bradford are being warned to beware of online dating scams, where victims can be conned into handing over thousands of pounds to fraudsters.
Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud-reporting centre, saw an almost-six-fold increase in the number of crime reports taken from victims of romance fraud between May and June this year.
West Yorkshire Police’s economic crime unit has also seen an increase in people who have been affected by the scams.
Mike Popplewell, 66, of Gomersal, Bradford, said he was targeted by two young Russian women who tried to strike up relationships with him and considered paying for one of the women, named Anna, to come to England.
Mr Popplewell, a mental health nurse, quickly became suspicious of the other woman, Natalia, after she sent him several suggestive photographs. But he admitted he was almost taken in by Anna, who seemed more plausible.
He said: “Having an inclination toward charity work anyway, I was prepared, very early on, to chip in with a few quid to give this woman a chance to have a look at life in England.”
It was when his son Danny directed him to a website called Russian Detective – set up by a Russian-born woman living in the United States to expose scammers – that alarm bells started to ring.
Anna had sent Mr Popplewell copies of her passport and university diploma as well as a video pleading her innocence. But he was told by the website’s founder Elena Garrett that their friendship was nothing more than a personalised scam. He said: “With four, five or even six-figure payouts to be had there are no lengths too great, it seems, that these criminals won’t go to in order to take your money.
“The Natalia character was a joke – how anyone could fall for that defies belief. But Anna, that was a very different story and potentially crippling financially and emotionally for victims.
“The big mistake both made with me was the assumption I might have any money in the first place!”
A spokesman for Action Fraud said: “The increase we have seen in reports of romance fraud may be because it is happening more or it may be that people are feeling more inclined to report it.”
l Comment – Page 8 “People often feel embarrassed and don’t report it but this is a serious crime and the silence only helps the fraudsters.”
A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police’s economic crime unit said: “We are aware of an increase in this type of crime and would advise people to be vigilant when using chat rooms and other interactive sites.”
To contact Action Fraud visit actionfraud.org.uk or call 0300 123 2040.