People using online dating agencies are being warned to look out for fraudsters who want to steal their money.
Meeting in person may avoid the chance of being robbed
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), as part of its scams awareness month, says dating frauds are becoming more common.
The criminals create attractive online profiles for themselves, designed to attract a particular victim.
They then use bogus sob stories to lure them into handing over personal information, such as their address and bank account details.
"Online dating scammers are heartless. They are happy to exploit people's emotions for their own gain," said an OFT spokeswoman.
Once the scammers have made contact with a potential victim, through dating websites or chat rooms, they build up the victim's confidence in their potential partner.
Then they ask them for money, with a false story to back it up.
Among the common stories, says the OFT, are:
- They would really like to meet you, but do not have enough money to travel
- They are stranded abroad and do not have money for travel or visas
- They have been robbed and beaten, and require urgent surgery or treatment for a serious illness - and you are the only person who can help them.
The authorities say there are several tell-tale signs that the story and the person apparently behind it are bogus.
Among them are requests to send them cash by money transfer, no ability to contact the person except via the internet, and a particularly good-looking photo.
The basic advice is never to hand over personal details, such as home address or bank account details, to someone you have never actually met.