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Online dating scam

Over 200,000 people in Britain may have been duped by a fraudster posing as a would-be romantic partner on the internet.

Crooks aim to develop a close online relationship with the victim, often using an excuse so as not to meet in person, before asking for cash to help with a presumed crisis.

The study, carried out by the universities of Leicester and Westminster, found that 2 percent of people surveyed knew someone who this had happened to.

Monica Whitty, a psychologist and professor of contemporary media at Leicester University, said that researchers were 'shocked' at the scale of the problem. The universities have worked in conjunction with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which found that losses ranged from £50 – £240,000.

"A lot of people find it very hard to accept what has happened, even if they know the person involved is now in jail," Whitty said.

'We've had male victims who still refer to the other person as 'she', even though they now know it was a man.

'In a few cases they've found the relationship so therapeutic they keep it going, even if they know they've been conned.'

The survey, of around 2,000 people, revealed that only just over half knew about the existence of such scams.

Colin Woodcock of Soca said that people who are engaged in online dating remain at risk.

'The perpetrators spend long periods of time grooming their victims, working out their vulnerabilities and when the time is right to ask for money,' he said.

'By being aware of how to stay safe online, members of the UK public can ensure they don't join those who have lost nearly every penny they had, been robbed of their self-respect, and in some cases, committed suicide after being exploited, relentlessly, by these criminals.'

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