Victims of so-called "romance fraud" reported being scammed out of more than £50m last year, and women were targeted more frequently – and severely – than men.
According to new figures released by Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud reporting service, 63% of people who reported romance fraud in 2018 were female.
Romance fraud or a "romance scam" involves a person being tricked into thinking they have met a potential partner on social media or a dating website – only to find out later that they have been used for their money. Experts warn that these kind of scams have become "extremely sophisticated".
On average, female victims tended to be conned out of twice as much money as male victims, meaning women lost around £39m last year in romance scams.
Action Fraud said the actual figure could be much higher as some crimes go unreported due to victims feeling embarrassed about what has happened. The average age of a romance scam victim is 50, the service said.
Ahead of Valentine's Day, it has launched a social media campaign called #fauxmance to raise awareness of this kind of crime.
Commander Karen Baxter, head of City of London Police’s economic crime department, said: "Heartless fraudsters are cruelly targeting vulnerable victims and exploiting those looking for love online. Together with our partners, we are urging people to spot the signs of romance fraud and to follow the Date Safe advice this Valentine’s Day and in the future.
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, advised people to "always be wary of any requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person".
Diana Fawcett, chief officer at Victim Support, added: "These scams can be extremely sophisticated and victims should not feel ashamed or embarrassed and shouldn’t blame themselves in any way."
If you are a victim of crime and need advice, please call Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111 or request help online