PCC Mark Shelford and Avon and Somerset Police are urging local people to spot the signs of heartbreaking romance fraud this Valentine’s Day.

Romance fraud involves scammers masquerading as romantic partners. After laying down the groundwork for a ‘relationship’ with a victim, the fraudster will start to ask for favours like sending money, providing personal and financial information or purchasing gift cards or items for them.

Often, the scammers will use a range of stories to try and persuade victims to send them financial gifts without it raising suspicion. Such examples including funding travel to visit the victim – which never happens - money to pay for an emergency or medical expense, a lucrative investment or pretending to be a military personnel working overseas.

Scammers will often send victims false documents and pictures to enhance their story and the requests for money will usually escalate.

According to Crimestoppers, nationally, the average victim loses £10k. In 2021, a total of £99 million was lost in romance fraud scams.

National lead for Economic and Cybercrime, PCC Mark Shelford said: “Romance fraud is an awful, heart-breaking crime. Victims invest time into someone, thinking they have a genuine personal connection when, in fact, they have been scammed.

“In some cases, victims struggle to end communication and their ‘relationship’ with the fraudster as they do not always believe they have been defrauded and have emotionally invested in the offender."

“Whatever the outcome, romance fraud is a heart-breaking crime and I know victims can often feel ashamed when they realise they have been scammed. Please know support is available from the police and Action Fraud. If you think a family member or a friend is a victim of this terrible crime, please make them aware of the signs and help them access help.”

Amy Horrobin, Fraud Protect Officer, added: “It’s common for victims of romance fraud to tell us they were reluctant to come forward, because they either refused to believe what has happened to them was a fraud or they feel embarrassed."

“Our message to anyone in that situation is to please report it to Action Fraud. You will not be judged and you will be supported."

“The financial and emotional harm romance fraud causes is all too readily apparent. So we want people to look for potential warning signs that the person they are in contact with might not be who they say they are, especially if you have never met them."

“These include: very early declarations of love; an urgent emergency or sob story where they require money or items to be purchased such as gift cards, jewellery or cryptocurrency; the person you are speaking to claims to live/ work overseas – maybe in the military or as a medical professional; and excuses why they cannot either meet in person or take part in a video call with a clear picture and sound. Like other frauds, make sure you do not share personal details or private banking information with them.”