Gardaí issue ‘romance fraud' warning ahead of St Valentine’s Day

Fraudster gained trust of Irish victim - who sent him €62,000

(Image above is a still from a video titled 'Online Romance Imposter Scams | Federal Trade Commission')

An Garda Síochána wish to warn members of the public to be aware of ‘Romance’ fraud as we approach St Valentine’s Day.

In 2019, 75 cases of ‘romance fraud’ were reported to gardaí. The victims were both male and female, and the total losses suffered were in excess of €1,000,000.

The fraud is enabled via online dating sites or other social media by fraudsters who will provide the victims with well-prepared stories designed to deceive.

The victims develop online relationships with the fraudsters, who use fake identities, photographs and life stories.

Inevitably, the fraudster will ask their victim for money.

The fraudster will continue to ask for money until victims have no more money to give or realise they are being conned.

This crime often leaves vulnerable people with a feeling of hurt and mistrust in addition to their financial loss.

The warning signs include:

• The fraudster asking the victim to communicate by instant messaging, text or phone calls rather than messaging through the dating website

• The fraudster will start asking for money for various reasons, starting with low amounts:

– to pay for travel to meet the victim

– to pay moving expenses (ship furniture and pay customs)

– to pay medical expenses for a sick child or relative

– to invest in a guaranteed business opportunity

– to pay a tax bill or other spurious reason.

• No meetings in person take place. The fraudster will present reasons for not meeting, or may arrange to meet and then cancel

• The fraudster will avoid personal questions, but will ask plenty

• They will ask for money to be transferred to bank accounts abroad or via money transfer agencies to locations outside of Ireland

• Phone calls from Irish numbers or lodgements to Irish bank accounts should not be considered as evidence that the person is genuine.

In one case an Irish victim developed a relationship with a male on a dating website.

He gained her trust and she sent him €62,000 over a period of time.

In another case, a victim linked up with a female in an online chat room and ended up sending her €50,000.

Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau advises the public as follows:

• STOP AND THINK! ASK YOURSELF, IS THIS PERSON REAL? If you are asked for money by a person with whom you are in an online relationship

• NEVER share personal or banking details with unknown persons online.

• NEVER receive money from, or send money to persons unknown.

• THINK twice before using a webcam (intimate images can be used for blackmail).

• TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS – if it sounds like it is too good to be true, it is probably not true.

• IF IN DOUBT, talk to a family member or a friend.

• If you have been the victim of this type of crime, please report it in confidence to your local Garda station.

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