Irish police warn of “romance scammers” on Valentine’s Day  | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

An Garda Síochána is advising the public on Valentine’s Day 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.

“A victim will be made believe that they have met their perfect match online, but are in fact being terribly deceived,” Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau said.

“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.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) issued a similar warning this week, noting that just over £713,000 has been lost in Northern Ireland as a result of romance fraud in the last ten months.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson, from the PSNI’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “This is a despicable type of crime which, we believe, is underreported because people feel embarrassed.

“By raising awareness of this type of fraud, we hope people will know the signs to look out for and feel empowered to stop fraudsters taking their money.

“We also want anyone who has lost money in this type of fraud to report it. Our message is, do not feel ashamed. If it has happened to you tell us, help and support is available.”

The PSNI said that between April 2023 and the start of February this year, there were 73 reports of romance scams made. The total loss of £713,133 includes life-changing sums of money, including staggering losses of over £100,000, to other amounts of £50,000, £20,000 to hundreds of pounds.

The biggest loss reported to police was £130,000 after payments over a period of time had been made to a woman the person met online. The woman claimed money she was entitled to, was tied up in an overseas business, but she didn’t have a bank account to access the funds. After the initial payment, the woman managed to convince the person to continuing sending money.

Detective Chief Inspector Wilson says the majority of people using social media or online dating sites are genuine, but he says it’s important people are aware of how to keep themselves and their money safe from scammers. He said this type of scam could happen at any time of the year.

“Fraudsters don’t care about gender, sexuality, age or race. However, we see some trends in those who lose money – more frequently they’re aged between 30-60 years old and women are slightly more likely to lose money than men, but it’s very finely balanced.

“Fraudsters target everyone – don’t let it be you.

“Remember, no promising relationship will ever start by sending money to someone you’ve never met,” added Detective Chief Inspector Wilson. 

Tips for staying safe online and avoiding romance scams

  • 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 police station
  • Look out for inconsistencies like they’re university educated, but their spelling and grammar are 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.

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