Devon and Cornwall are romance fraud hotspots – and the police are failing to deal with it

Devon and Cornwall have become hotspots for romance fraud, although in parts of Britain hardly any cases result in the scammer being charged.

Rural and affluent areas are now bigger hotbeds for dating scams than many big cities. Devon and Cornwall accounted for 6% of all romance fraud cases last year, beaten only by London (23%) and tied with Manchester.

However, victim support groups have called on police to ‘step up their efforts to crack down on romance fraud’ as it emerged that reported cases rarely result in charges.

Freedom of Information requests filed by The Telegraph showed that none of the 101 cases registered in Devon and Cornwall over the past five years have resulted in a charge. Other counties fared little better. In Leicestershire, only one reported case of romance fraud has resulted in an offender being charged, out of a total of 115 cases since 2017.

According to data from Action Fraud, people over the age of 40 are much more likely to be victims of a romance scam via a dating app such as Tinder or Hinge, with women twice as likely to be victims. of a dating scam than men.

Chloe Roche, lawyers for CEL, said the average age of romance scam victims was 53.

“Not only is the older generation more confident, but they’re also more isolated,” she said. “Their partners may be dead and they may not even be looking for romance – just a friend.”

In one case in North Wales, police have revealed a 70-year-old woman was scammed out of £140,000 by a man she had started an online relationship with two years previously. A debt collection company was enlisted but the suspect was never found. Another victim, aged 60, was scammed out of £160,000.

Freedom of Information requests showed Tinder to be the most popular site among scammers, with nearly half of all cases (47%) related to the app in the past year. It was followed by Plenty of Fish (32pc), Hinge (8pc) and gay dating app Grindr (4pc).

Lisa Mills, from the charity Victim Support, called on dating apps and police forces to “double their efforts” to tackle romance fraud. “Romance fraud can have an extremely detrimental effect on victims, whether financially, psychologically or emotionally,” she said.

“The shockingly low number of romance fraud prosecutions is very concerning and may mean that fewer victims feel empowered to report the offense and get the justice they deserve.”

Devon and Cornwall Police said romance fraud was a ‘high priority’ and national agencies as well as local forces were tasked with investigating cases. “Online romance fraud is often perpetrated by highly organized criminal groups and involves complex money laundering networks where the offenders are often overseas,” police said.

“Love fraud is a particularly complex crime to investigate. It can take months or even years for victims to realize and accept that they may have been defrauded. Fraud is vastly under-reported; we therefore encourage anyone who thinks they have been a victim to report the breaches to Action Fraud.

A spokesperson for Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, Plenty of Fish and Hinge, said it takes any incidents of fraud “very seriously” and uses tools such as machine learning technology and ” “trained content moderators” to patrol for fraud. Grindr did not respond to requests for comment.

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