Over £700k lost to romance scams in NI including one victim duped by a fake ‘overseas celebrity’ | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

The incident emerged as police said £713,000 has been lost to romance scams in the last 10 months here.

Officers have investigated 73 reports of so-called romance scams with life-changing amounts of money lost by victims.

The biggest loss police reported was £130,000 after payments were made to a woman the victim 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.

Another victim lost £20,000 after the man struck up an online relationship with a person he believed to be a celebrity overseas. The contact continued for several months before his bank stepped in and raised the alarm.

Another report made to police cited a loss of £15,000 by a woman who had developed what she believed to be a genuine online relationship with a man who said he worked in the entertainment industry.

After a while, the man said he had money problems. The victim sent money only to realise the person she thought was in contact with was actually a fraudster.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson, from the Police Service’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “This is a despicable type of crime which, we believe, is under reported 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.

“Fraudsters seek to build a relationship of trust quickly before requesting money giving multiple excuses,” says Detective Chief Inspector Wilson. “Initially, they’ll appear charming and appear very interested in you, but they’ll have multiple excuses for not being able to meet face-to-face.

“They’ll ask for money to help them sort out their problems, for example medical bills, or to help pay for travel, or some investment opportunity. They’ll promise to repay the money, but the harsh reality is they have no intention of doing so.

“Sadly, for some people who believe they’ve found love online, the stark reality is they’ve been emotionally and financially drained. It’s despicable, really heart-breaking.

“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.”

Advice the PSNI has given to the public to keep themselves safe when communicating online includes:

  • Stay on the app – Always keep communication on the dating website or app you’re using. Many have inbuilt security and assistance. They also take steps to remove and ban fake accounts so you’re safer there.
  • Check their socials – Carry out your own research on the person, checking their social media presence to see if it matches what’s on the dating site. Looking at key details such as name, location and family members can help identify inconsistencies in what you have been told.
  • Check their photo – Profile pictures can be deceiving and be taken from anywhere on the internet. You can use various websites to check photos using a reverse image search to prove if the photo is valid.
  • Never ever send money to someone you haven’t met in person – If you’re looking for friendship, companionship or love online it should never start with being asked for money, and if it does it’s not a friend or relationship worth having.

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National Cyber Security