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‘Many criminals working similar scams will help each other.It’s primarily small groups of disenfranchised young men – poverty-stricken, ill-educated – finding it virtually impossible to get regular work and make any sort of living.‘Some people are so desperate to be loved that they will do almost anything. They are not prepared to admit that they have fallen for a fantasy.

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.

I know of two suicides which occurred as a direct result of romance scamming. Taking their own lives must have seemed easier than owning up to having got it so wrong’.

Romance scamming had its genesis in the lottery scams of the Eighties.

‘There is no world capital of heartless scamming,’ said Mr Woodcock. Thanks to the West African diaspora it also goes on in hundreds of other locations, according to information reaching the National Fraud Reporting Centre – anywhere that the internet can be accessed routinely.

‘We work closely with colleagues in African countries to intercept tens of thousands of letters in circulation.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.These developed into advance-fee frauds, in which victims targeted by letter or fax dispatched modest amounts to the senders in the hope of receiving larger sums back.Variations involving obtaining bank account details included the Nigerian letter, also known as the Nigerian bank scam or 419 fraud – named after the clause in Nigerian law dealing with fraud.As Nigeria’s oil-based economy declined and unemployment surged, conning Western businessmen into bogus deals became widespread.

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