Irish Examiner view:  Think with your head, not heart, when it comes to fraud

An Garda Síochána are asking members of the public to be on guard against romance fraud
Irish Examiner view:  Think with your head, not heart, when it comes to fraud

An Garda Síochána are asking members of the public to be vigilant of romance fraud as incidences of romance scams rose by 86% in 2021.

There’s a well-known Latin warning in business: Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Unfortunately, it doesn’t only apply to matters of commerce. It can cover affairs of the heart as well.

The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau took the week of St Valentine’s Day to issue a stern warning that romance frauds are a booming internet enterprise, increasingly dominated by organised criminal gangs and using all the tricks of the trade that appear to be so easily facilitated by digital technologies.

The activities of fraudsters who swindle lonely people out of large sums through the cynical manipulation of their feelings have achieved a high public profile this month because of the success of the Netflix drama-documentary The Tinder Swindler.

It recounts the distasteful exploits of convicted conman Shimon Heyada Hayut, also known as Simon Leviev. Hayut, who liked to call himself the King of Diamonds, swindled a number of women. 

The Netflix programme provides the accounts of three of his victims — Cecilia Fjellhoy, Pernilla Sjoholm, and Ayleen Charlotte — who lost €720,000 to the Israeli national.

While plots involving predatory men seeking to separate women from their fortunes have been with us for centuries — see Sir Percival Glyde in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and Edward Murdstone in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens — what the new technologies have delivered is an even more pervasive form of domination.


An emerging and highly effective tactic used by cybercriminals is social engineering, which uses a potential victim’s personal information — often easily available through social media — to psychologically condition them into sharing data and cash. By the time the scam becomes apparent, the thieves have disappeared.

While The Tinder Swindler was a lone wolf, Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan emphasises that this is not always the pattern. 

Garda investigations have shown that some crime groups use scripted templates for correspondence with victims, often sustaining multiple conversations with different targets. 

Fake profiles are created with photos and identity details taken from the web. Romance frauds reported to gardaí rose by 86% last year, with numbers accelerated by Covid lockdowns, which persuaded people to turn to online dating sites. 

The average age of victims — 70% are female — has fallen from people in their 60s and 70s to the 47-50 cohort.

The crimes are often underreported, partly out of shame and embarrassment from being conned but also because of blackmail. Gardaí have also identified increasing links between romance fraud and investment fraud. 

Officers recommend people to use trusted dating websites, not to share personal details, not to send or receive money, and to think hard before using webcams.

And, above all, to listen to instincts. If it feels too good to be true, then beware.

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