A police boss has issued an urgent warning to lonely men and women in North Wales not to be fooled by heartless scammers.

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Andy Dunbobbin spoke out after it was revealed that cruel fraudsters had duped their targets out of nearly £500,000 last year

Mr Dunbobbin said the region’s police force had received more than 100 reports of romance fraud in 2021.

But he fears it could be “just the tip of the iceberg, with many more lovelorn victims who were too embarrassed or ashamed to contact the police about being swindled.

According to Mr Dunbobbin, the increased isolation and loneliness caused by the pandemic had also led to an increase in romance fraud.

One of the cases that came to light involved  a single man aged 57 who was conned out of £150,000 after being groomed over a period of months when he was gradually isolated from family and friends.

The fraudster told him she wanted to renovate a property abroad so that she could sell it to move to the UK so they could spend the rest of their lives together.

The victim was persuaded to send money to the suspect for the work to be completed.

He was persuaded by the scammer that she needed to pretend to be married to claim and inheritance and he was persuaded to pose as her husband.

It ended up with him making “significant payments”  for bogus legal fees to various bank accounts to release the funds to the suspect.

North Wales Police are investigating the case and providing support for the victim.

Tackling fraud is a key priority in Mr Dunbobbin’s Police and Crime Plans which sets out the blueprint for the policing of North Wales.

The commissioner has pledged to bolster the force’s Economic Crime Unit with three extra officers.

Mr Dunbobbin also provides funding for the Victim Help Centre in St Asaph which serves the whole of North Wales.

The centre brings together the support services of North Wales Police, the Witness Care Unit of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the former Victim Support organisation.

The commissioner also revealed that people who fear they have been victims can now call a new hotline, 159, which aims to be a “999 for fraud”.

The 159 number is being trialled by Stop Scams UK, a group of banks and telephone firms and will enable people to speak to their bank instantly about a suspected fraud

Mr Dunbobbin said: “Being a victim of fraud can have a devastating and traumatic impact on peoples’ lives, often leaving them emotionally destroyed.

“The problem is that these scammers are incredibly plausible and have the gift of the gab so it is understandable that people can get taken in, particularly if they are feeling lonely.

“It’s therefore important for people to be on their guard for this kind of crime and not to be fooled by these smooth-talking swindlers whose only interest is fleecing their victims remorselessly.

“Over the past two years it’s understandable that due to the pandemic people have been feeling insecure and lonely which has increased this type of fraud.

“The pandemic has also provided fraudsters with the perfect excuses as to why they cannot meet their victims in person.

“I am  urging anyone who is concerned they may have been a victim to seek help and support.”

If you have been the victim of a fraud you can report it to Action Fraud via the website, www.actionfraud.police.uk or by ringing them on 0300 123 2040 while people who suspect they have been scammed can also call a new hotline by ringing 159.