March 28, 2024

In February 2019, Anna, a finance professional in her 50s, joined the dating website Zoosk. She had been single for four years, recovering from an incredibly difficult, abusive marriage. “I was finally ready to meet someone,” she says.

So, when she met Andrew, a handsome Bulgarian food importer living in London, she was thrilled. The pair were soon spending hours talking on the phone each day. Anna was smitten. “He showered me with love and affection,” she says. “If you imagine candy floss, I was the stick and he was the sugar wrapped around me. I felt as though I was floating.”

They made plans to meet up, but Andrew told her he had to go to France for an urgent business trip. They continued to speak on the phone and also, occasionally, on video chat. About five weeks after they first made contact, Andrew asked to borrow money; just a small amount. “He told me he’d had a work crisis and needed help with port charges for a delivery. He was so distressed by the unexpected charge. I felt sorry for him.”

Anna thought Andrew was her perfect man. Now, she believes he was a character invented by a criminal gang to extort her.

So-called “romance fraud” – where unsuspecting victims are scammed by someone with whom they have formed a relationship – is nothing new. But online dating makes such fraud easier; experts saythese scams have increased in sophistication and frequency.

Then came the pandemic – when online dating was the only kind that was allowed….

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