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‘Some people think they’ll win the next race, or pick the winning Lottery ticket.Others don’t want to believe that someone paying them attention may not be genuine.They typically pay subscription fees with stolen or cloned credit card details – and act quickly to inveigle their way into long-distance ‘love affairs’ over the net. Once a relationship is established, they’ll move in for the sting.This can be an elaborate ruse lasting weeks – perhaps they will concoct a trip abroad and later a sudden crisis that leaves them in urgent need of cash.Kate, who had to sell her house to pay off her debts, is one of a rising tide of women (and a number of men) who have fallen for a new and worrying crime phenomenon: the romantic scam or rom scam.One widowed grandmother, identified only as Jean, lost more than £100,000 to a fake soldier who told her he was raising a teenage son alone.‘Frauds are like viruses, they mutate and move on,’ said Mr Woodcock.
However, Colin Woodcock, a senior investigator with SOCA – the Serious Organised Crime Agency – said: ‘This crime affects hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the UK, to the tune of up to £80million a year.Sometimes they will spin a yarn about sending money to their victim’s current account and ask him or her to forward some of the money on.Weeks later, the original transfer will bounce, leaving the victim thousands of pounds in debt.We have reciprocal arrangements with the police in the United States and other countries. People have to report it so that we can act.’ While widely described as the work of ‘mafia-style’ organisations, evidence to date suggests that romance scamming is more the work of individuals acting alone.'It’s a huge operation, and we are making progress but people are still falling for it in worrying numbers. ‘In reality it’s now a bit of both,’ Mr Woodcock said.