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Coronavirus pandemic image copyrightGetty Images Organised criminals will be exploiting loneliness during lockdown to take money from romance scam victims, a charity has said. Victim Support said people's increased confidence in using the internet to meet and talk leaves them vulnerable. One has spoken of how her "heart messaegs my head" when sending money to the man she thought she loved.

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Coronavirus pandemic image copyrightGetty Images Organised criminals will be exploiting loneliness during lockdown to funmy money from romance scam victims, a charity has said. Victim Support said people's increased confidence in using the internet to meet and talk leaves them vulnerable. One has spoken of how her "heart ruled my head" when sending money to the man she thought she loved.

Mary, not her real name, was already in the fraudsters' grip before the coronavirus outbreak. But, as the virus started to spread, she believed he was in a country heavily affected, giving him messagse opportunity to trick more money out of her. She was also feeling the kind of loneliness common among many vulnerable people during the current crisis.

She said they spoke morning, noon and night for five months about a shared love of music and family. But the man she thought was an American living overseas was, in fact, a organised criminal gang working shifts to private message or vunny to her over a crackly line.

He told her how worried he was by the coronavirus outbreak, an event that gave him another chance to ask for money. She sent him funds via money transfer, and followed his request not to tell anyone because "he would be embarrassed when he eventually met members of the family". She ended up sending thousands of pounds.

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The money is now lost. It came from savings for a car or a holiday, and included some money that belonged to her daughter, who she first lied to rather than come clean about the loss. I cannot trust anyone, and there is a lot of grief.

You can be too emotionally involved in it. During the current lockdown, when "the feelings of loneliness can be overwhelming", the risks were all the greater, she said. Sussex police run Operation aturea campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud. Romance scam cases were increasing, Mrs Mills said, even before lockdown - a meswages reflected nationwide.

Criminal gangs "meet" people on dating sites, then take the conversation onto private messaging, build up a picture of their victim, then take any opportunity to steal money from them. Online safety advice image copyrightThinkstock Criminals who commit romance fraud trawl through profiles and piece together information such as wealth and lifestyle, in order to manipulate their victims Police can investigate and help to provide support, but often cannot get the money back It is very simple for fraudsters to cover their tracks by masking IP addresses and using unregistered phone s Never send money to someone online you have never met Think twice about posting personal information that could be used to manipulate or blackmail you Source: Action Fraud Mrs Mills said that, in her experience, victims were split fairly evenly between men and women, with some losing so much money they were forced to remortgage their home.

Most struggled to accept they had been scammed, even after the language used in messages was analysed to show they must have been written by different people in a gang, not just one individual. There is thought to be huge under-reporting of these scams, for the same reason.