A police boss has launched a new crusade against con artists who are targeting lonely men and women in cruel romance scams.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has made tackling fraud of all kinds a key priority in his Police and Crime Plan and says he’s concerned about the growing number of so-called Rom Cons.
One case in North Wales involved a 60 year-old-woman who was tricked into sending £59,000 to a callous heartbreaker over a period of three and a half years. She had met the suspect on a dating website and the alarm was first raised by her bank due to the unusual activity on her account.
The woman was said to be “distraught” when she discovered she’d been scammed.
Another victim was a 68-year-old woman who as swindled three times – on the most recent occasion she was conned out of £1,400. She sent the money to a man she believed to be a solicitor as the payment of fees to purchase a property in France – but the pictures were in fact images of buildings in the USA and the “solicitor” turned out to be a fitness instructor living in London.
As well as setting up a new Economic Crime Unit to crack down on fraudsters, the police and crime commissioner has provided funding to pay for a dedicated officer to support fraud victims.
Cadi Jones, 24, who graduated in Childhood Studies at Bangor University, is based at the Victim Help Centre in St Asaph which serves the whole of North Wales. The centre brings together the support services of North Wales Police, the Witness Care Unit of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the former Victim Support organisation. Each victim receives a response specifically tailored to their situation and the centre She had previously worked in the police control room and felt that she wanted to be able to provide victims of crime with more support.
“In a sense I was an intermediary in the control room, passing messages on, and I felt that I wanted to give more personal help. Being a victim of fraud can have a traumatic impact and a lot of people say that they feel embarrassed or ashamed of what has happened.
“Often they’re more comfortable speaking with someone they don’t know rather than their family, so it’s important that someone like me is available. They can be totally honest with someone like me and open up about their feelings.
“The problem is that these fraudsters are very plausible and convincing to the point where the persuade the victims to think they can trust them. If you’ve been the victim of a scam once you are more likely to be targeted again, piling on the misery and heartbreak.
“There is an increase in romance scams and a lot of this happens on dating websites and the fraudsters will often ask the victim to talk on email or Whatsapp – which means there isn’t the protection of the dating website. Often they will make an excuse that something bad has happened and that they need money to resolve it.
“If people are looking for romance they are often lonely as well. Some may have lost their partners so it’s a very cruel thing to do. It can be devastating financially and emotionally.”
According to Mr Jones, a former police inspector, establishing the new five-strong Economic Crime Unit and appointing Cadi were among a raft of new measures designed to protect and support vulnerable people being targeted by fraudsters.
“Once somebody has been defrauded, especially if they’re vulnerable, there is a tendency for them to be revictimized time and time again because their details are available, Cadi’s appointment means we now have a dedicated fraud victim help officer to make sure that people are not revictimized and that we safeguard them.
“The focus of the new Economic Crime Unite will also be on supporting vulnerable people being defrauded.
“The increase in the number of fraud cases is a particular worry because these swindlers are exploiting vulnerable people, not just in North Wales. It’s a massive problem across the UK. The key factor is the vulnerability of the victim, irrespective of what the crime is and I would like to do more around the vulnerable victims of fraud.
“Vulnerable people, very often elderly, are being targeted specifically and that is despicable.
“We have had examples in the past of vulnerable people essentially being groomed over a series of telephone calls and then having money taken from them and loans taken out in their names.
“It’s the worst kind of crime because the victims have worked hard all their lives and saved all their money only to see it disappear after sometimes a couple of phone calls.
“If it sounds too good to be true it probably is and that’s the message that needs to go out.”
If you have been the victim of a fraud you can report it to Action Fraud via the website, www.actionfraud.police.uk or by ringing them on 0300 123 2040