More than €800,000 scammed from victims of romance fraud in just five months

More than €800,000 scammed from victims of romance fraud in just five months

Romance fraud most often begins online, on a dating site or on social media.

Gardaí have warned the public to beware of romance fraud as 31 cases have been reported over a five-month period.

From January to the end of May, these 31 cases resulted in victims being scammed out of a total of €812,715.

Of the reported cases, 23 were female and eight were male. The average age of injured parties who are female was 44 years and for males was 47 years. The youngest victim was 27 and the oldest was 69.

In all cases except one, the victims encountered the suspect over a dating app or through social media.

In almost every case, the money was transferred to accounts outside Ireland or to bitcoin wallets. 

Gardaí say such crimes are perpetrated on an international scale, and victims are encountered and exploited online and deceived into transferring money abroad. This is done to ensure the suspects can cash out and to frustrate investigations. It is also believed that the true scale of these crimes is far greater, with many victims not reporting anything.

In September 2021, An Garda Síochána received a request for assistance from the Hungarian police through Interpol. They were investigating a case where a female was deceived into sending $4,000 to a fraudulent account. Investigations by the Hungarian police identified that the money was credited to an Irish bank account.

The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau identified the holder of the account and an analysis showed that between September 2020 and October 2021, there were 46 suspicious credits into this account from 12 people in  eight EU countries, namely Germany, Croatia, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland, and the UK.

The total amount credited in this 12-month period was €109,880.28. Eleven of the victims were female. 

Once the credit is made to the account, the funds are immediately withdrawn in cash, transferred electronically, and used in point-of-sale transactions on successive days, leaving very little in the account until the next credit is made. It is suspected that each of the 12 people who credited money to his account are the victims of romance fraud.

The holder of this account was arrested in June and the investigation continues.

Romance 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 them. 

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 until the victim has no more money to give or realise they are being deceived.

The advice from GNECB to any person on a dating site or in communication with a person they never met over social media is as follows:

  • Use reputable dating sites and use their messaging service. Do not move to social media or texting too quickly. Be especially wary of unsolicited links or approaches or suggested likes.
  • Be careful what you share on social media and online dating websites. Do not reveal your full name or home address. Protect your identity.
  • Be wary of anyone asking lots of questions about you, but not revealing much about themselves. They will come across as being the ideal person. 
  •  Never send money or give your bank details to somebody you have never met, no matter how much you believe and trust them. Do not download apps like AnyDesk at their behest or allow them control over your device. 
  • Do not send them money or pay for medical bills, purchase flights, or VISAs, pay customs fees, or make any payment for them to come to visit you.
  • Do not invest your money in any 'opportunities' offered by them or anyone whom you only 'met' online. Always seek independent financial and legal advice first.
  • Remember, individuals can pretend to be anyone they want to be online. You can google an image to see if it comes up on several sites or profiles.
  • Never provide copies of your personal documents, such as passports or driving licences.
  • Never make arrangements or travel to meet them unless you are sure of their identity. Make sure you confide in someone and ensure that the person is aware you are confiding in someone else.
  • Save copies of correspondence.
  • Don't be embarrassed about reporting it to gardaí; you are not alone. 
  • If you think you have fallen victim, contact your bank immediately. The quicker you act, the better chance of recouping any lost funds.

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