Sussex Police urge people looking for love online to be vigilant
People in Sussex are being urged to be vigilant when looking for love and not to become the latest victim to romance fraud – particularly people aged between 30-59 who accounted for half of all romance fraud cases across Sussex in 2021.
Contrary to popular belief, in Sussex there is almost just as many men who are victims of this fraud type as women.
More than £4-million pounds was taken from people in Sussex who fell victim to this type of crime last year.
One person who unfortunately fell victim last year was Anna (Not her real name) who is a finance professional in her 50s and is currently being supported by Victim Support Sussex.
Anna believed she was in a genuine relationship with Andrew for more than two years when she realised she’d been the victim of a romance fraud and reported this to Sussex Police in October with financial losses amounting to around £350,000.
She joined the dating website Zoosk in February 2019 after four years of being single and met Andrew who told her that he was a Bulgarian food importer living in London and said they had an immediate connection.
Anna said: “I’d been recovering from an incredibly difficult, abusive marriage and I was finally ready to meet someone.”
“He showered me with love and affection. If you imagine a stick of candy floss, I was the stick and he was the sugar wrapped around me. I felt as though I was floating”.
Around five-weeks after their initial connection, Andrew asked Anna for some money to help him through a temporary business crisis. The requests for further financial assistance became more frequent and even included a plea to cover repatriation costs in respect of his daughter who had died overseas. Anna says that there were multiple occasions she voiced suspicions about these scenarios to Andrew, but that he made her question her own reality.
Anna added: “I’d be sucked back into his all-powerful love bubble. I was also getting receipts for many things, and he constantly had an explanation for me”.
Anna goes on to say that she and Andrew had engaged in a couple of video calls but she has since found out that via sophisticated trickery he had been using technology to superimpose a moving image.
Some of the most common methods of communication with fraudsters is WhatsApp, Dating Sites and Facebook.
Finally, at the stage where Andrew claimed to being held as a hostage in Paris and tortured by loan sharks over unpaid debts, Anna, in her own self-declared desperation and anxiety, put out a social media alert for help regarding his possible whereabouts. It was at this point, she was then contacted by a lady in France responding to this appeal for information. She advised Anna that the photo of Andrew actually related to a famous actor in South America and that Anna had been deceived by an online fraudster.
Anna expressed that “I had spent the year lacking sleep, completely unstable, but trapped in this abusive cycle. I’d become obsessed with him and preventing his pain. It felt like losing a husband that I loved with every inch of my heart and soul. I was never going to get any closure or say goodbye”.
Anna reported what had happened to Action Fraud and as a result she then became involved with Sussex Police and Victim Support Sussex. As is common with people experiencing this type of fraud, Anna has not told anyone close to her what has happened.
Anna concluded: “I know they’d tell me I was insane but it’s impossible to explain how all-consuming and addictive this love for Andrew was. He was my fantasy man and after being abused in my previous relationship, it seemed like I’d finally found perfection. I am intelligent but I’m not the only person this has happened to. The heart and mind can be fragile, especially after abuse. The combination of taking someone’s heart whilst robbing them day in day out, exceeds evil known to the common public.”
This is one of 427 reports of romance fraud made to Operation Signature our Police process to identify, protect, and support vulnerable victims of fraud.
The majority of these romance fraud which were reported in 2021 took place in West Sussex (56%), just under a third were reported in East Sussex (30%) and almost half of those were reported in Brighton and Hove (14%).
Bernadette Lawrie BEM the Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex Police says: “With more and more people turning to online platforms to form relationships this cruel and heartless crime is on the rise. Fraudsters prey on the loneliness of victims, targeting and grooming them for the purpose of exploiting money. Since the pandemic we have seen increases in this fraud type because social interactions and connections have been reduced and criminals have used this as an opportunity to befriend people and strike up online relationships with those at their most vulnerable before defrauding them and stealing their money.”
Bernadette suggests using the DATES advice for anyone who is seeking a relationship.
Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile: ask plenty of questions.
Analyse their profile – confirm the person's identity. Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
Talk to your friends and family - be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
Evade scams - never send money or share your bank details with someone you’ve only met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
Stay on the dating site messenger service - don't use email, phone, social media or other messaging apps until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.
Sussex Police are taking proactive action to try and prevent people falling victim to romance fraud. It’s estimated that 7,550 potential victims have been prevented from making contact with a scammer thanks to the 99 images and 52 emails which have been submitted to Scamalytics.
To report a scammer making contact with you or fraudulent material relating to romance fraud report it to Scamalytics here.
Sussex Police welcome 76 new recruits
Seventy-six new recruits have taken their first steps into policing after being formally sworn-in at an attestation ceremony on Tuesday (11 January) at East Sussex National Golf Club.
It’s the largest intake to the force in recent years and for the first time, sees more women (53.6%) join through this route than men.
In addition to this 10% of the intake are people from Black, Asian and Minority backgrounds.
Family and friends were unable to attend the event due to Covid restrictions, but could watch the live stream of the ceremony which allowed them to submit supportive comments to the new recruits, some from as far away as Chicago Airport.
The new recruits will dedicate their time to keeping communities in Sussex safe, and are the latest to join through Operation Uplift – the national campaign to recruit an extra 20,000 officers across the country.
Chief Constable Jo Shiner said: “Welcome to the new recruits joining Sussex Police. This is the start of an exciting new chapter in their lives, serving our communities here in Sussex.
“To welcome another large cohort of officers is extremely positive and reassuring to the people of Sussex. It was thoroughly enjoyable to meet the recruits who are from a variety of different backgrounds and life experiences, which we hope can benefit them in their new career.
“This really is a unique career where not only are you changing your life,but helping numerous other people across our county and creating a strong bond with the team in which you work. In my role I am privileged to hear some incredible stories and outstanding achievements which focus on our goals of protecting communities, catching criminals and delivering an outstanding service.
“It’s also important to highlight that last week the latest recruitment window opened and I would encourage anyone aspiring for a fulfilling and challenging career to apply.”
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “Officer attestations are one of the highlights of the year for me when I get to meet our impressive new recruits and their families as they take their oath to serve with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality.
“It is so reassuring that despite all the obvious challenges that a career in policing will face we have people who still want to make a difference. Swearing the oath to serve the Queen in the office of constable brings unique responsibilities and powers to help their peers make Sussex safer for us all.
“On behalf of Sussex residents, I warmly welcome all our officers to the force and the rewarding career ahead of them.”
Week of action to highlight vital role of neighbourhood policing
Neighbourhood policing, and the vital role it plays in keeping our communities safe, will be highlighted during a dedicated week of action.
From January 17 to 23, police forces across the country will be shining the spotlight on their Neighbourhood Policing Teams (NPT) and sharing information on the work they do to help people in their time of need.
In Sussex, officers will use the week of action as an opportunity to build on the work they do 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – engaging with the public, deterring and identifying crime, and taking action against issues affecting the lives of people living and working in our districts.
Chief Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw, force lead for neighbourhood policing, said: "Neighbourhood Policing Teams work at the heart of our communities. Whether it's an officer patrolling a park following recent reports of anti-social behaviour, or a PCSO attending a residents' meeting to discuss concerns around drug-dealing, they are working hard to tackle the issues that negatively impact the lives of people they serve to protect.
"There are many strands of policing that sit under the umbrella of NPT. It includes our licensing teams who work hard to ensure local businesses are complying with laws put in place to keep customers safe, and our neighbourhood youth officers who work closely with schools and youth clubs in the area to engage with children and young people.
"Quite often, issues in our community cannot be solved by police alone. Through good relationships built between our NPT and partners such as local councils and support services, we can use a multi-agency approach to effectively respond to these problems."
During the week of action, Neighbourhood Policing Teams across Sussex will be stepping up their activity. There will be dedicated days of action for the Rural Crime Team, protecting wildlife and supporting our rural and farming communities, and for Operation Safety, the force's response to knife crime and serious violence.
Officers will also be out engaging with the public, providing information about the role of the Neighbourhood Policing Team and listening to any concerns people may have.
Ch Supt Burtenshaw added: "We encourage people to talk to police officers and PCSOs when they see them out and about in our villages, towns and cities.
"Simple conversations can help our officers gather intelligence which, when combined with a good local knowledge, supports their aim of preventing, identifying and responding to crime and anti-social behaviour, and catching those responsible for causing harm in our community."
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: "I know, from my frequent consultations with residents and local organisations across Sussex, just how much they value the importance of visible neighbourhood policing.
“That is why I have enabled Sussex Police to invest in additional PCSOs and police officers as well as encouraged increased engagement with local councils, residents and businesses – all of which has helped to strengthen neighbourhood policing throughout our county.
“I am determined to see neighbourhood policing remain at the heart of the force’s work with our communities, addressing local priorities and proactively tackling issues that really matter to people.”
Members of the public can report crime to police online or by calling 101. Always dial 999 in an emergency.
Officers seize £45,000 in cash following vehicle stop in East Grinstead
Cash, weapons and drugs were seized and three arrests were made by police officers from the Specialist Enforcement Unit (SEU) in East Grinstead.
Officers on patrol identified a suspicious Audi A3 travelling in Queens Road shortly before 9pm on Monday (January 10).
A passenger was picked up by the vehicle which was followed by police and then stopped for driving without insurance.
Three men in the car were searched, and officers also searched the vehicle for suspicious items.
Officers seized cannabis, weapons, a balaclava and £1,500 in cash in the glovebox.
The driver, a 22-year-old man, was required to take a roadside DrugWipe test, which he failed.
A 21-year-old man, a passenger, was searched and found in possession of cannabis.
The third passenger, a man aged 20, was searched but no suspicious items or drugs were found. He faces no further police action.
Officers from the Specialist Enforcement Unit and West Sussex Neighbourhood Policing Team then completed a number of searches at the home addresses of the two arrested men. At one property officers found a significant quantity of cocaine and cash.
A 22-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possessing offensive weapons in public, driving while under the influence of a specified drug, driving without insurance and possession of cannabis.
He was also arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of a class A drug.
A 21-year-old woman at the address in East Grinstead was also arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of a class A drug.
Meanwhile officers also searched the address of a 21-year-old man, where they found weapons which were all seized.
He was arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine, possessing cannabis, possessing an offensive weapon in a private place, possessing criminal property, and being concerned in the supply of a class A drug.
Approximately £45,000 in cash was seized from the searches at both addresses and the vehicles.
It is the latest good work by the Specialist Enforcement Unit which was established in January 2021 to target offenders on our roads.
The three suspects who were arrested have been released on bail until February 8 while the investigation continues.
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