Con artists are using internet dating sites to trick lonely people into handing over thousands of pounds, police warned today.
The fraudsters sign up to websites including datingdirect.com and seniordating.com and start emailing their victims, pretending they are looking for love and are interested in a relationship.
But all they really want is money, peddling stories of hardship or the need for cash to start a new life in the UK.
Two women, aged 49 and 61, from Southampton, have been conned out of £18,000 in the last two months. Three other Hampshire women have also lost significant amounts of cash.
They include a 58-year-old Winchester woman, who was duped out of £24,000, and a 62-year-old New Forest woman, who was conned out of £4,000. A Farnborough woman also fell victim to the scam.
Civilian investigator Phil McAleer, from Southampton Central police station, said: "The Southampton women have been conned out of significant amounts of cash, thinking that the person they are emailing is interested in forging a relationship and is in genuine need.
"One of the women was told by the man emailing her that he was falsely imprisoned on drugs charges and needs money to be released.
"They are then given a name and told to wire the money to Ghana via Western Union or Moneygram.
"These scammers prey on vulnerable people looking for love. I'd ask anyone using internet dating sites who is asked to part with large sums of money to be very cautious.
"Remember, you rarely get anything for nothing. These cons are costing people huge amounts of cash and there is no audit trail when money is wired to people in this way, so victims have very little chance of getting their money back."