North Yorkshire Police Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer, Andy Fox, said: “Romance fraud is where someone creates a fake online profile and after gaining the trust of an individual, uses their relationship to request sums of money.
"Fake profiles will often feature photos taken from other people online and may pose as a US army officer or businessman based overseas.
"Monetary sums will be requested to pay for urgent medical care or even plane tickets to visit the UK, usually alongside a story designed to elicit sympathy and on the promise of it being repaid.
“These fake profiles will typically be on dating websites and apps but we are now seeing a number of incidents where victims have been targeted on gaming applications which allow players to communicate with each other.
"Although the requests for money start small, they quickly escalate and many victims have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds to these fraudsters.
“We see at least one incident of romance fraud each week here in North Yorkshire and in addition have had 13 different reports through Action Fraud in the three months from November to January.
“The individuals who undertake romance fraud are highly skilled in both earning trust and cultivating what feels like a loving relationship so the impact on victims can be huge – financially and emotionally.
"We’re urging anyone using online dating to be vigilant to the signs and also to look out for friends and family, helping safeguard them from becoming victims.”
If you’ve met someone online, ask yourself the following questions
* Have you ever seen them? Fraudsters will usually take photos from other people online to use in their profiles and will likely never take part in a video chat or meet in person.
Google reverse image search can help you spot if a photo on a profile is genuine or not.
* Have you ever spoken to them? As these individuals are posing as someone else, they will rarely engage in a phone or web-based voice call.
* Have they ever asked you for money? The amounts may start small but will usually increase once they have your trust.
A fraudster may say they are going to visit and ask you to pay for their air fare but then their flight gets cancelled or their passport is stolen.
* Is there anything about your interactions with the individual which just doesn’t feel right? Trust your instincts and be vigilant for any signs which make you feel worried or uneasy.
Andy Fox added: “Cease all contact with the individual immediately and report them to the police or Action Fraud.
"We know that romance fraud is underreported for a number of reasons but one can be that victims feel embarrassed they have been taken in by these fraudsters.
"There is absolutely no reason to feel embarrassed and the police are here to support you.
“Not only can we give you advice and guidance to ensure you don’t become a victim again, all of these reports help us to build a profile of how romance fraud is undertaken so we can try to stop it happening to others in future.
“Although we don’t typically see increased incidents of romance fraud incidents in the run up to Valentine’s Day, it is nevertheless a time when thoughts may be turning to the subject of love and a good opportunity to remind everyone how they can keep themselves and their money safe.”