Love-sick Brits hunting for romance online are being cheated out of around £37 billion through sating sites, research has revealed.
Fraudsters are targeting emotionally vulnerable Britons looking for love, by grooming them in a similar way to methods used by paedophiles grooming children.
The increase in the number of online dating sites is likely to result the number being scammed increasing, researchers predict.
Fraudsters lead those looking for love to believe that they are beginning a romantic relationship and then swindle them out of large sums of money over periods of a few months.
Professor Monica Whitty of Leicester University said: ‘Scammers create a fake profile on dating sites and build up an intense relationship with their victim, grooming them before testing the waters to see of they can make some money out of the “relationship”.
‘It’s almost paedophilic. They get into a close relationship, getting emotionally close to them and, like paedophiles do when grooming their victims, gain their trust before pouncing. The victims become reliant on this closeness and are often infatuated by scammers who create attractive profiles.
‘The criminals tell them they love them and victims often haven’t had that experience before so they rely on them for happiness entirely.
Professor Whitty said they test to see if the besotted victim will hand over money by suggesting they would like a small gift.
‘This small gesture grows, with some asking for more expensive gifts like airplane tickets, with victims agreeing because online relationships are more intense and online daters often more strategic in what they say.
‘We’ve heard a lot from people at airports saying they see these victims waiting for their lover to turn up, only to realise they are not coming.
‘They will then make up an excuse for why they didn’t show up – car trouble getting to the airport for example – then still continue asking for money so they can try and visit again.’
This fraudulent activity does not just relate to money, some victims are sexually abused or convinced to strip on webcams in order to keep the relationship going.
The figures were gained from a YouGov survey of 2,028 Brits who were questioned about their experiences with online dating fraud.