DATERS looking for romance have reported being raped, threatened with death, blackmailed, assaulted and sexually groomed after signing up to online dating services, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Since 2014, police forces in the North-East and North Yorkshire have investigated more than 100 allegations linked to popular dating agencies including Tinder, Plenty of Fish, Grindr, Match.com, Yellow and OK Cupid.

In addition, many more cases involving financial fraud via dating agencies have been reported to the City of London Police’s national ActionFraud initiative.

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While the vast majority of those using dating sites in the hope of finding love do so without incident, figures obtained by The Northern Echo show a range of offences linked to their use.

Crimes recently logged by the region's forces include 28 sex offences, including 11 rapes, five allegations of blackmail, eight incidents of violence, four of sexual grooming, seven thefts, 24 reports of harassment, seven allegations of fraud and one threat to kill.

In the past three years, police in the region have investigated at least 52 allegations linked to Plenty of Fish, 20 linked to Tinder, 14 to Grindr, six to Match.com, two concerning OK Cupid and two associated with ‘Tinder for teens’ app Yellow.

Nationally, ActionFraud said earlier this year it receives seven calls a day – one every three hours – relating to dating sites.

Two people, one a 15-year-old Tinder user and another using Grindr, reported the disclosure of sexual photographs without their permission while one teenager – a 15-year-old boy – was investigated over the possession of an indecent photograph of a 14-year-old girl linked to Yellow.

Grindr was also involved in an incident in the Northumbria force area, where a 30-year-old man was charged with a sexual offence against a 14-year-old boy.

A violent attack against a 19-year-old Grindr user that took place in the Cleveland area in 2015 is among the dating site allegations that remain unresolved.

Police find it particularly difficult to trace fraudsters who use the sites to financially exploit their victims, with ActionFraud estimating the average amount lost by victims of dating scammers is £10,000.

In 2016, a heartbroken County Durham pensioner was left with nothing – “not even a slice of bread” – after being targeted by internet scammers thought to have been operating from another country.

The Northern Echo understands that the statistics provided by Durham Constabulary, North Yorkshire Police, Cleveland Police and Northumbria Police may not reflect the extent of the issue, with the true figures likely to be considerably higher.

Cleveland Police, for example, could only provide figures relating to Grindr.

A spokesman for Durham Constabulary, which provided the highest number of recorded incidents, said: “Lots of crimes these days have elements of a digital nature with devices becoming cheaper and more commonplace.

“The opportunity for the public to become exposed to all sorts of apps and crime has increased.

“We proactively encourage those who believe they have been victims of these types of crimes to come forward and the public can have confidence we will deal with such incidents in an appropriate manner.”

County Durham and Darlington’s Police, Crime and Victims Commissioner, Ron Hogg urged dating agencies to do more to tackle the problem.

He said: “People need to be vigilant, being aware of risky behaviours when they meet people online, and they should use the correct settings to protect themselves and their children from perpetrators.

“Companies which run websites need to do more to help to identify perpetrators of online crime and to bring them to justice.”

A spokesman for Grindr said: "Grindr is committed to creating a safe environment through a system of digital and human screening tools to help its users connect and thrive.

"Grindr encourages users to report suspicious and threatening activities. While we are constantly improving upon this process, it is important to remember that Grindr is an open platform.

"Grindr cooperates with law enforcement on a regular basis and does not condone abusive or violent behaviour."

The other online dating companies were contacted by The Northern Echo for comment but failed to respond.

ActionFraud’s advice to those using online dating sites is as follows:

  • Get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions - don’t rush into an online relationship.
  • Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
  • Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
  • Never send money to someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
  • Don’t move the conversation off the dating site messenger until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.