A widow scammed out of her life savings by a man she met on a dating app has said it made her feel like she had "lost a loved one" again. Dyfed-Powys Police said there had been a significant increase in romance fraud during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since January, victims in west Wales have been scammed out of £1.3m by people they met online. The force said criminals were taking advantage of people's loneliness during lockdown.Rebecca Jones, fraud safeguarding officer for the force, said men and women aged from 18 to 88-years-old had been targeted after looking for love online.
"Without a doubt, we've seen an slotxo increase from the initial lockdown," she said. "It's a case of people turning to an online relationship during that lonely period and now we're seeing the repercussions of that."
Across the UK between August 2019 and August 2020, Action Fraud received more than 400 reports a month from victims of romance fraud in the UK, with victims scammed out of an average of £10,000 each. In June, July and August this year, more than 600 reports were made to the hotline a month, indicating an increase in scams during the pandemic.Widow Carole [not her real name] said she met an "attentive, affectionate and funny" man on a dating site, who told her he was widowed, and she fell in love.
"He talked of our future together and all the fun times we would have travelling the world," she said.
But Carole, who lives in west Wales, said he soon asked her for a loan, claiming his bank card had been frozen, but six months after she sent him money she found he was using someone else's photo online and "my world fell apart".
He managed to convince her he was not a fraudster though, and she continued to send him money despite suspicions.Carole described how she was then used as a "money mule", with him sending money into her account and telling her to forward it to people he owed in Europe.
"I lost a lot of money, but I felt far worse knowing I had been used as a mule to launder money," she said. "I know that the image I had made in my mind of my love interest didn't match who he was, but it was real to me."
Her bank reported suspected fraud and reported it to the police, and her accounts were frozen, but she lost all her life savings."It's my own fault for being so stupid, kind and trusting," she said.