An Garda Síochána are warning members of the public to be aware of ‘Romance’ fraud as we approach St. Valentine’s Day. In 2020 almost 200 cases of Romance Fraud were reported to Gardaí. The victims were both male and female and from all age groups. The average amount of money lost was in excess of €20,000. The Covid-19 Regulations and travel restrictions have resulted in reduced social gatherings and as a result is generating opportunities for fraudsters to engage in online Romance Fraud.
This particular 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 the victim has no more money to give or realise they are being deceived. This crime often leaves vulnerable people with a feeling of hurt and mistrust in addition to their financial loss. In some recent cases we have seen the criminals targeting people with learning difficulties.
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 recent case an Irish victim developed a relationship with a female from the United States of America on a dating website. Over a period of months, for spurious reasons she asked him for money and in total the victim suffered a loss of over €21,000 (over 5 separate transactions).
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 on-line 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.
• If you a guardian or friend to someone with intellectual difficulties be alert to the dangers of romance fraud.