AN INTERNATIONAL online dating fraud gang who claim to operate from Bolton are tricking people out of thousands of pounds.

A 56-year-old Finnish nurse has become the latest victim of the con and says she has been left “shamed and broke” after handing over £17,500.

The nurse, who asked not to be named, was contacted on an internet dating website by a man claiming to be called Steve Fields, who said he was the managing director of an IT company in Manchester.

They arranged to meet, but their plans collapsed when he told her he had been detained by the authorities over a tax issue while travelling to Cyprus on business.

He then asked for financial help, using e-mails from the fake solicitor to convince her “his client” would pay her back.

The solicitor, supposedly named Ronald Cook, claims to work for a non-existent firm called Gilstar, whose website says it has an office in Bolton.

At each move, the conman’s claims were backed up with a series of fake documents, fake websites and fake e-mails.

The victim said: “This is the biggest crisis in my whole life — both economically and emotionally.

Nobody has ever lied to me as much as Steve did.”

The Bolton News rang “Mr Fields”, who has a mobile phone number listed on his company website.

A man with a strong foreign accent answered, claiming to be Mr Fields, and said he was in “London, Manchester”. The man hung up after further questioning.

The same scammers have also used a website for a bogus hotel company, Poulett Hotels, which offers a luxury £200-a-night hotel and conference suite in Bradford Street, The Haulgh — but the real address is a block of bedsits, currently closed for refurbishment.

Other victims of the scammers include a retired IT consultant from Austria, who paid out more than £50,000 in the belief he was helping a young female artist who had fallen on hard times.

It is thought the frauds are being committed by criminal gangs in West Africa.

Greater Manchester Police is now looking into the matter to determine whether a local investigation into the fraud is warranted.

GMP has also referred the matter to Action Fraud, which is linked to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.