An Garda Síochána have warned members of the public to be vigilant of ‘romance fraud’ this 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.
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 feelings of hurt and mistrust in addition to their financial loss. In some recent cases, Gardaí have seen criminals targeting people with learning difficulties.
The warning signs of romance fraud 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. This may include money to pay for travel to meet the victim, to pay moving expenses, to pay medical expenses for a sick child or relative or to invest in a guaranteed business opportunity.
- 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
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 five separate transactions).
The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau advises the public to stop and ask themselves if the person with whom they are in an online relationship is definitely real. Never share personal or banking details with unknown persons online, or send money to persons unknown.
Think twice before using a webcam, as intimate images can be used for blackmail. Trust your instincts and if in doubt, share your concerns with a family member or friend. If you have been the victim of this type of crime, please report it in confidence to your local Garda station.