How falling for an online romeo conman can cost more than just money

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AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Yesterday it was all about criminals using Facebook and Twitter to target homes for burglary, but today's focus is on another online scam, the romeo conman.

It's where a lonely heart meets someone online who seems their perfect match and, desperate for love, they fall for a convoluted tale of misfortune that means they just have to send money to their new-found friend. Lots of money.

In the worst cases, by the time the victim twigs that this is a scam, the online romeo has vanished, their bank account it empty and they are left as lonely as before.

Now, the first real look at this type of fraud has just been undertaken by Leicester University.

Romantic relationships
The study reckons more than 200,000 people last year were conned into parting with cash after being tricked into believing they were involved in romantic relationships but fewer than 600 cases were actually reported.

The national fraud reporting and advice centre, Action Fraud, identified just 592 cases last year and of these 203 lost more than £5,000. The Serious Organised Crime Agency says losses can be as high as £240,000.

With that kind of money at stake, it really does pay to know your Facebook friends personally.

Because many of these ruses are well-planned and complex with the fraudsters often using pictures of soldiers or models when trying to lure someone into their trap.

The reason for the under-reporting of the crime isn't because people don't know about it because Colin Woodcock at SOCA says the majority of us are now aware that this goes on. No, the problem is shame.

Which makes the victims of these conmen suffer a twofold loss. The obvious financial loss and the loss of self-respect that, in some cases, has actually led to suicide.

The answer? Well, SOCA warn to never send money to anyone online unless you have got to know them well and met them in person.

It's hard to argue with that advice.

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