Devon and Cornwall have emerged as romance fraud hotspots, although in some areas of Britain virtually no cases result in the scammer being charged.
Rural and affluent areas are now bigger hotbeds for dating scams than many major cities. Devon and Cornwall accounted for 6pc of all cases of romance fraud last year, beaten only by London (23pc) and tied with Manchester.
However, victim support groups have called on the police to “redouble their efforts in tackling romance fraud” as it emerged that reported cases rarely result in charges being brought.
Freedom of Information requests lodged by The Telegraph showed none of the 101 cases recorded in Devon and Cornwall in the last five years resulted in a charge. Other counties fared little better. In Leicestershire only one reported case of romance fraud resulted in an offender being charged, out of a total of 115 cases since 2017.
According to data from Action Fraud, people over the age of 40 are far more likely to fall victim to a romance scam over a dating app such as Tinder or Hinge, with women being twice as likely to fall victim to a dating scam than men.
Chloe Roche, of CEL solicitors, said the average age for victims of romance scams was 53.
“Not only are the older generation more trusting, they are also more isolated,” she said. “Their partners might have died and they might not even be looking for romance – just for a friend.”
In one case in North Wales, police revealed one 70-year-old woman had been scammed out of £140,000 by a man with whom she began an online relationship two years prior. A debt collection company was enlisted but the suspect was never located. Another female victim, 60, was conned out of £160,000.
Freedom of Information requests showed Tinder was the most popular site among fraudsters, with nearly half of all cases (47pc) linked to the app in the last year. It was followed by Plenty of Fish (32pc), Hinge (8pc), and gay dating app Grindr (4pc).
Lisa Mills, of charity Victim Support, called on dating apps and police forces to “redouble their efforts” in tackling romance fraud. “Romance fraud can have an intensely damaging effect on victims, whether that be financial, psychological or emotional,” she said.
“The shockingly small number of prosecutions for romance fraud is of serious concern, and can mean that fewer victims feel empowered to report the offence and seek the justice they deserve.”
Devon and Cornwall Police said romance fraud was a “high priority” and that national agencies as well as local forces were responsible for investigating cases. “Online romance fraud is often perpetrated by highly organised crime groups and involves complex money laundering networks where offenders are often overseas,” the police said.
“Romance fraud is a particularly complex crime to investigate. It can take months to years for victims to realise and accept that they may have been defrauded. Fraud goes largely underreported; we would therefore encourage anyone who thinks they have been a victim to report offences to Action Fraud.”
A spokesman for Match Group, the parent company of Tinder, Plenty of Fish and Hinge, said it takes any incident of fraud “very seriously” and uses tools such as machine learning technology and “trained content moderators” to patrol for fraud. Grindr did not respond to requests for comment.