Scammers are targeting lonely singles on dating sites with the prospect of love – and money.
The crooks set up false profiles to woo their victims before sweet-talking them into a get-rich-quick scheme.
It involves downloading a currency trading phone app tempting users to plough savings into a foreign exchange investment company. But both the app and the firm are fake.
The worldwide con has been reported to British fraudbusters. Ex-detective Mark Williams-Thomas told us: “It’s a sophisticated scam worth millions and is operating all over the globe.”
Victims here include maths tutor Eva Kedoula, 53, who lost £35,000 (Sh4.5million). She was duped by a profile on Facebook Dating, falling for a 34-year-old single man called Jesse.
After weeks of being groomed, the mother-of-two, who is on Universal Credit, had remortgaged her home and ploughed tens of thousands into the foreign exchange investment firm he said could make her rich.
Singletons’ savings have been similarly plundered in China, Japan and Central America, with a fortune passing through a network of bank and Bitcoin accounts.
And lockdown loneliness has helped the romance fraudsters to steal more than £50,000 a day in the UK alone.
Tonight divorced Eva told us: “I took the bait. He plugged into my greed. There were lots of things that made it seem legitimate. He made me think I was making money and so I borrowed money I didn’t have.”
Eva hooked up with the scammer in January and soon the crook had sent her a link to the money app.
She deposited £5,000, then got a string of messages from the bogus software suggesting big profits.
Eva remortgaged her home and managed to accrue £35,000 of borrowed funds which she transferred through the app. Eva, of Cricklewood, North London, said: “I thought the app was legitimate. I ignored red flags.”
After a fortnight Eva tried to withdraw her cash but the app said she would have to plough even more money into the account to access her funds.
When she refused they threatened to call Interpol and accused her of being a crook.
Eva said: “I could no longer lie to myself. I messaged Jesse and he tried to gaslight me saying I did something wrong.
“It was then I went to the police.”
Eva reported the con to Action Fraud, which investigates cybercrimes.
Its staff are assessing her information, but experts fear the scammers will never be caught because they operate worldwide.
Eva enlisted the help of Mr Williams-Thomas, now a TV host and private investigator.
He has traced the scam that fleeced Eva to an address in Hong Kong.
The number of victims caught out by dating site scams last year leapt 20%, says banking trade body UK Finance.