Sussex is Britain’s romance fraud capital, according to The Times newspaper.
It made the claim yesterday after analysing data from Action Fraud, the government’s national fraud agency.
And it comes just a few months after 23-year-old Connor Richardson was jailed after he appeared to have gone on a spending spree in Brighton with a bank card stolen from a woman he met online.
In one 12-month period – to the end of September 2018 – 10 dating fraud cases were reported in Brighton and Hove.
The average financial loss was £16,000 and half of the victims were 30 to 59 years old. Almost a third were 60 to 75 and 20 per cent were over 75.
The Times said: “Sussex is the nation’s dating fraud capital while residents of Durham should keep their eyes peeled for lottery scams and people in Surrey will want to be vigilant about door-to-door salesmen.
“The Times analysed data from Action Fraud, a government agency that refers fraud to the UK’s 43 police force areas.
“If you live in Sussex, the chances of being duped into sending money to an online dating scammer were higher than the chances of being badly injured or killed in a crash.
“Fraudsters target paid dating websites to find more affluent people – salaries in Sussex outstrip most of the 42 other police force areas.”
Outside London and Manchester, Sussex had some of the highest fraud rates across the board, including bogus workers and other types of doorstep conmen.
Sussex Police said on its website: “Romance fraud is the engineering of a supposed friendship or relationship for fraudulent, financial gain.
“Suspects invest significant amounts of time into socially engineering their victims – knowing that as they gain the victim’s trust, their chances of extracting considerable funds from them simultaneously increase.
“Fraudsters do not initially ask the victims for money. Instead they spend time communicating with them online and building trust. By the time they ask for large sums of money, the reasons for requiring financial assistance have greater plausibility. This is known as the ‘grooming period’.
“Typically, the longer the period between the date of first contact and the date of the first financial transfer, the higher the amount of money handed over.
“Data implies that a high proportion of victims are lonely, widowed or recently bereaved, have suffered from a recent break up and/or suffering from depression.
“The financial losses are high and victims can often be in denial, making self-reporting low and repeat victimisation likely.
“Romance fraud is one of the fastest-growing crime types affecting the vulnerable, so much so that in Sussex all victims of romance fraud are treated as vulnerable by crime type.
“Reports made to Action Fraud reveal that £50,766,602 was lost to romance fraud in 2018 – an average of £11,145 per victim and a 27 per cent increase on the previous year.”