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Few love more fervently than the middle-aged and lonely.Which is why last week’s revelation that divorcee Kate Roberts lavished £80,000 on a handsome American soldier – only to find out he was a fictitious creation of a heartless gang of Nigerian conmen – came as yet another salutary warning that not everything is what it seems on the Worldwide Web.Kate, who had to sell her house to pay off her debts, is one of a rising tide of women (and a number of men) who have fallen for a new and worrying crime phenomenon: the romantic scam or rom scam.One widowed grandmother, identified only as Jean, lost more than £100,000 to a fake soldier who told her he was raising a teenage son alone.She answered his calls for help with bills, school fees and getting his ‘son’ out of military prison.

Police managed to trace some of the money to accounts in Nigeria and California and recovered just over £13,000. The fraudsters register with dating websites using false identities and photos of good-looking people culled from the web. They know, after all, that most members of the dating site wouldn’t be there unless they were lonely and vulnerable.

They typically pay subscription fees with stolen or cloned credit card details – and act quickly to inveigle their way into long-distance ‘love affairs’ over the net. Once a relationship is established, they’ll move in for the sting.

This can be an elaborate ruse lasting weeks – perhaps they will concoct a trip abroad and later a sudden crisis that leaves them in urgent need of cash.

Sometimes they will spin a yarn about sending money to their victim’s current account and ask him or her to forward some of the money on.

Weeks later, the original transfer will bounce, leaving the victim thousands of pounds in debt.

Often the victims are so embarrassed and ashamed that they don’t involve police.