Romance scammers will steal your heart and swindle your money

This Valentine’s Day, An Garda Síochána is advising the public to beware of romance scams and criminals who are taking advantage of an increase in the popularity of dating apps among those seeking romance.

Of the 245 victims that have come forward to An Garda Síochána since 2020, the majority were female and their average financial loss was €28,500. The highest reported loss by a female in Ireland was over €450,000 stolen in 18 transactions, while one male victim had more than €380,000 taken.

Typically, fraudsters use someone else’s photos to set up a fake profile on dating apps and online dating sites to scour through profiles to identify potential victims who they will then target and groom over a sustained period in an effort to extract their money.

Their profile usually depicts a person that has a responsible job but is most often fictitiously based in a location which makes them unable to travel or move freely, and has poor phone network or internet connection i.e. working on an offshore oil rig, an aid worker, a humanitarian doctor or a soldier in a worn-torn country.

They’ll match or connect on the dating app and quickly encourage their victim to move to a messaging app or email. They’ll say all the right things because they follow prepared scripts.

Their background may seem legit – they will usually claim to have been married and now widowed or divorced, have grown up children and be seeking a platonic relationship but that is all part of the ploy.

The requests for money start small and in some instances if these initial asks are provided for by the victim, they will be repaid so as to build trust. The fraudster will have more than one victim at any given time.

In time, the requests will increase in amount and before a victim necessarily realises it they’re being pressured to pay anything from essential medical bills and custom duties, to purchasing flights and Visa’s.

On occasion these requests for dig outs can become an investment pitch – with the fraudster claiming to have a great financial opportunity which often involves Crypto. They will encourage their victim to invest on the basis that they will make a quick profit, and the fraudster will even go so far as to provide all the expertise to facilitate the transaction(s).

The most common conclusion is that a victim will begin to start asking questions of their money and when it becomes apparent that it has been stolen, the fraudster will cut contact and block them. Once reported, the investigation into these crimes will usually indicate that the victim’s money has been transferred to a bank account, Crypto account or what is known as a ‘Cold Storage Wallet’ or a ‘Cold Wallet’ outside of Ireland.

Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau said, “A victim will be made believe that they have met their perfect match online, but are in fact being terribly deceived. It becomes a huge invasion of privacy and a breach of trust which can impact your whole view of people and the possibility of romance, but it’s important to remember that this fraud and it is a crime.

“It is often the case that a victim’s money is transferred overseas to fund organised criminal activities such as terrorism, human trafficking, people smuggling and even corruption. An Garda Síochána work closely with both Europol and Interpol to disrupt those involved in fraud of this nature as part of our investigations into romance scams.

“If you have previously been or believe that you are a victim of a romance scam, please speak with us at any Garda Station. This can very easily happen and no one should feel embarrassed, we are here to help and will treat every report in confidence.”

An Garda Síochána’s advice:

• Use a reputable dating site and its messaging function to help avoid moving to social media or texting too quickly
• Take the image(s) they are using on their profile and Google Reverse Image Search
• Be careful of what personal details you share on your profile and do not give your address, a copy of your passport or driving licence
• Be wary of anyone asking lots of questions about you but not revealing much about themselves, or anyone asking you to video call but they won’t
• Never, ever send money or give your bank details including online banking password to someone you have met online
• Do not make any payment on the pretence that they visit you
• Do not invest your money in any opportunity offered by a person that you’ve connected with online – always seek independent financial and legal advice
• Do not download any app that they ask you to i.e. AnyDesk
• If you become suspicious, save all your correspondence with the individual and immediately make contact with your bank and any Garda Station
• Look out for inconsistencies like they’re university educated, but their spelling and grammar is below average.
• Act on instinct if you spot gaps in their story which can often occur as the fraudster mixes up which victim they are speaking with.

2023 Case Studies:

Victim one: Male, 50s, Eastern Region

This man connected with a female purporting to be living in Asia, on a dating site. Following much communication by phone, they subsequently agreed to pursue a relationship and began making arrangements for her to travel to Ireland.
He initially transferred the cost to cover a Visa, long-haul flight and transfers to the value of €2,100. In total, this victim transferred over €36,000 as part of a romance scam.

Victim two: Female, 30s, Southern Region

After matching on a dating app, the victim was led to believe that her match was an online trader. He added his victim to a messaging app where they spoke for several weeks, and subsequently convinced her to transfer over €20,000 via a neobank. The victim was falsely made to believe that this money was being invested into a trading app.

Victim three: Female, 40s, Eastern Region

Last year, this victim was added on Facebook by a male who claimed to be a doctor based in a worn-torn country. After speaking for a number of weeks, the victim was asked for a significant sum of money in order to be able to return home. In total, €26,300 was stolen from this woman.

Victim four: Female, 40s, Southern Region

They spoke for months, exchanging photos having met online on a dating site and soon they were a couple despite her being based in the south-west of Ireland and he living overseas. During the course of their online relationship, he claimed that his construction business was failing and he required financial support. In the course of 100 transactions, €35,000 was stolen from this victim.

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