Criminals target Illawarra's lonely hearts

Lovesick singles across the Illawarra are being duped on the web, with some sending thousands of dollars to fake Romeos or Juliets across the sea.

Wollongong-based firm Overwatch Investigations has been helping, on average, four to five ripped-off lovers each month.

Overwatch director Stephen Patterson said the criminal groups behind the scams were well organised and often spanned international boundaries.

He said one Wollongong woman had been taken for a $12,000 ride by an Englishman with connections to a Melbourne organised crime network.

Another man, who went to Overwatch for help, gave his online lover more than $40,000 before realising something was amiss.

Mr Patterson said the organisation had already received three online love fraud cases so far this month.

However, he said there were likely to be many more cases, as people were often too embarrassed to come forward and admit their romance had been nothing but a scam.

"They are under the understanding it's a full-blown relationship," he said.

"The woman with the $12,000 ... I don't know what she was more heartbroken about - losing the money or finding out she'd been lied to by this bloke."

Mr Patterson said the criminals often started subtly with their requests for money, before gaining their victim's trust and taking them to the cleaners.

"Some guys talk to them for months, getting little bits at a time, a hundred here, a thousand there, then hit them with the big one and by that stage, they [the victims] are comfortable," he said.

Mr Patterson said fake passports and business documents were often used to con victims.

A NSW Police spokesman urged anyone using online dating services to be aware some scammers used the services to conduct criminal activity and fraudulently obtain money.

"Never send money directly to the bank account of a person you do not know," the spokesman said. "Before transferring any funds over the internet, satisfy yourself that the recipient is legitimate and be sure to maintain accurate records."

If you have fallen victim to an online scam, or suspect someone is attempting to scam you, contact Crime Stoppers.