The Office of Fair Trading is warning customers not to be taken in by online dating scams in the run up to Valentine's Day.

With more and more people turning to the Internet for friendship and love, the OFT says more people are being targeted by online dating scams designed to break hearts and steal money.

Online dating scammers create a false profile to match the specification of their target. Contact is made through chat rooms or dating sites and confidence built on a promise of romantic intentions. The scammer will set the scene with a romantic or tragic scenario, so that they can hit on their unsuspecting victim for money.

The OFT's online dating scam alert comes as part of its month-long scams awareness campaign. UK consumers lose an estimated £3.5 billion per year to a variety of scams which exploit low-cost, mass-marketing techniques. Many of these scams originate overseas, making detection and prosecution more difficult.

Some of the examples the OFT include:

* they'd really like to meet you, but don't have enough money to travel;

* they are stranded abroad and don't have money for travel or visa costs;

* they have been robbed and beaten, and require urgent surgery or treatment for a serious illness - and you are the only person who can help them.

The scammer will ask that the money be sent to them via money transfer. Other tell-tale signs to look out for include:

* your new beloved has model good looks - probably because they are using a photo of a model;

* you can only make contact online - because the postal address is a PO Box and the phone number just rings out;

* your new friend is all me, me, me, but doesn't answer your specific questions - probably because they are sending standard emails to hundreds of people.