Brits looking for love online were conned out of £27 million last year, according to Get Safe Online and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
The figures revealed that over 2,700 online dating related crimes were reported to the police in 2015, costing the average love-struck Brit £10,000.
However, the actual number of crimes is believed to be considerably higher as many victims are too embarrassed to report the crime.
Fraudsters scam their victims through a variety of ways, often claiming to be military personnel based overseas requiring money for a flight home or citing medical issues they need money for.
People aged in their fifties are most likely to be targeted, accounting for a quarter of all frauds.
Almost two thirds (64%) of all romance scams originated on dating sites, followed by social media (25%) and 10% via email.
There are a number of tell-tale signs that your online date might not be who you think it is.
They will often want to communicate through instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room where you met. Their profile picture might also be too perfect and they won’t ask questions about where they live or work.
The Police national coordinator for economic crime, Commander Chris Greany from City of London Police, said: “Romance fraudsters are using every method available to exploit people looking for love – including dating websites, social media and direct emails. These heartless criminals will specifically target those who they deem to be vulnerable and most likely to fall for their scams.
“Key advice to follow which will help you stay safe includes never sending funds to someone you have never met. If you’re in two minds always consult with a trusted friend or family member who will be able to view the situation objectively and provide another opinion on the situation.”
Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online, said: “The financial loss is one thing, but it’s the emotional impact this sort of crime has which is severe. When someone places a lot of trust and faith in a person who they think they know, they often don’t separate their emotional feelings from rationale. Often when victims do start to suspect something isn’t quite right, they’re already in deep, so it’s extremely easy to ignore those little niggles of doubt and choose to trust someone – it’s this factor which online criminals exploit.”
Get Safe Online recommends you don’t post personal information online and that you choose a site that protects your anonymity. It also warned against sending money or giving credit card details to anyone you don’t know and trust.
If you think you have been a victim of fraud you should report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.