The number of people falling victim to fraudsters posing as singles on dating websites rose by more than a quarter between June and August, Action Fraud has told Moneywise.
The figures - exclusive to Moneywise - indicate that dating fraud is one of the fastest-growing scams in the UK.
In the three months to August, dating scams rose by 27.8% to 651 incidents, with online daters losing £9,589 on average.
In July, the number of scams detected was lower at 225, but individuals lost more money (£10,882 on average) in each incident.
During the 12 months to March 2014, some 2,037 dating scams were reported to Action Fraud. With the June to August 2014 period alone accounting for 651 scams, if that rate continues next year, the annual figure could top 2,600 – a rise of 27%.
Meanwhile, Action Fraud has warned online daters to be wary of new tactics fraudsters are employing. "Fraudsters are now saying that they do not have enough annual leave left to come and visit victims who they have been speaking with online," it explained on its website.
"However, they claim they can buy leave off their employer, (such as the American Military or an engineering company). That leave will cost around £250 a day, so 10 days will cost £2,500. If the victim falls for this they also ask them to pay for the flight."
Another scam ensnaring fake singletons involves customs. "Fraudsters claim they have found a box containing gold, silver, money and jewels (or any one of them) in the desert and have sent it out of the country to set up a future together with the victim.
"However, they then state that this box is stuck with that country's customs. In order to release it, they claim they have to pay a customs release fee – which is then requested from the victim," it warned.
Research carried out by Leicester and Westminster universities in 2013 found almost 230,000 Britons were aware they had been targeted by online dating fraudsters, and an increasing number of criminal gangs and 'grooming users' were using fake profiles to extort cash from unwitting members.
One Moneywise reader from Derbyshire recently had a lucky escape. She told us: "I joined a dating site for the first time recently, signing up to JustSeniorSingles.com.
"I was soon contacted by a guy from Altrincham, Manchester but who said he was living abroad. I thought he looked ok and soon he wanted my email address and mobile number. He sent me an email about all his life, then I did the same.
"He wanted to Skype to build up a relationship, he said, before we met. We did this for approximately four weeks and I thought things were going well.
"He told me he was in Europe meeting clients to sell his gemstone business. He sent me photos and asked for my address to send me a surprise. A few days later he sent me 50 red roses and 2 boxes of chocolates.
"The next day he sent me a text, saying he wanted to ask me a favour. A few days later, he asked me to send money for work to be done on his holiday home in Italy.
"I said no and then he started getting nasty by Skype and text. He even asked me to wire the money that the roses cost him.
"I reported him to the website, but I don't think it took me seriously enough. They wouldn't refund any of my membership fees. I'm so glad I have a sensible head on me but I could easily have lost lots of my money."
Dating sites are taking the issue seriously and are trying to tackle flirty fraudsters head on. JustSeniorSingles.com has a moderation team that works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which moderates every profile and first message, to keep its members as safe from scammers as can be.
However, the site admitted to Moneywise: "Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the way that they operate and occasionally one may slip through the net."
While the company cannot be held responsible for financial transactions made by members away from the site, in our reader's case JustSeniorSingles.com refunded her membership fee back as a gesture of goodwill once Moneywise got in touch.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the site added that its safety guidelines recommend "if someone you're talking to asks you for money or any other financial details whatsoever, you should use the 'report this member' button on the site immediately. Upon a member being reported, their profile will be deleted from the site immediately and their information will be fed into Scamalytics, a cutting-edge anti-fraud tool, to flag their details to any other dating sites across the industry."
It added that in the event of that a member is targeted by a scammer, it recommends they report them to the police immediately after contacting us. "We always work with the relevant authorities to support any criminal investigation and will provide them with all of the information they need," the spokesperson confirmed.
Action Fraud gives the following advice on how to protect yourself from phantom singles:
- Trust your instincts. If you think something feels wrong, it probably is.
- Always guard your privacy online and be careful about what information you share.
- Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don't know and trust.
- Communicate with people locally and not from overseas, although you should be aware that someone might tell you they are in the same country as you when they are not.
- Never reply to communications from someone who you meet on a dating site/chat room or social networking website that then wants continue the communication by email.
- If you think a profile is fake, check the website for details on reporting it. Usually there will be links or buttons on profiles to block or report individuals.
Victim of any type of fraud can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or report the matter online at actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud.