In the run-up to Valentine's Day on Monday, gardaí are warning members of the public to be vigilant of romance fraud, the incidence of which increased by 86 per cent in 2021.
Illustrating the wide range of people targeted by these types of scams, gardaí released case studies, one of which involved a 51-year-old woman who believed she was in an online relationship with a man. The victim transferred €90,000 as a business loan to the man, but now believes it was a case of fraud.
According to Garda figures, 70 per cent of romance fraud victims are women, with scammers generally attempting to get their victim to send money by a number of manipulative means.
In another case study, a 38-year-old man reported he sent €3,800 via Bitcoin to a woman he had engaged with online, after she said she needed money to return home to Mexico.
Among the most common ways fraudsters extract money from their victim is by asking for money to cover travelling to see them, to cover medial expenses for the scammer or a member of their family, or asking for an investment in a business opportunity.
Gardaí also warned there is an increasing link between romance and investment frauds, as scammers ask their victim to invest in a fraudulent scheme or business.
People are asked to be mindful of the huge risks involved in investing in cryptocurrencies, not to send any money to someone they met online or through an app, and to seek professional and legal advice before investing their money in any venture.
Gardaí are involved in work with Europol to disrupt romance frauds, particularly involving organised crime groups, and monitor dating sites and apps for this reason.
Among the signs of romance fraud are:
- The person tries to move the communications away from the dating website/app, suggesting instant messaging, text or phone calls instead.
- They ask a lot of personal questions but avoid answering similar questions about themself, or supply answers which do not seem realistic.
- They try to establish a bond quickly.
- They mention their financial difficulties, hoping you will offer assistance, or may ask outright for help.
- They ask you to invest in a scheme or business, which is likely fraudulent.
- They never meet you in person. They may make arrangements to meet but end up cancelling last minute, or offer excuses as to why they cannot meet you, such as financial troubles.
To avoid falling victim to romance fraud, gardaí advise only using trusted dating websites/apps, not to share personal details, not to send or receive money, to think twice before using your webcam and to trust your instincts.
Anyone who believes they have been targetted by a romance fraud, or thinks their personal information has been compromised is asked to contact any Garda station and report the crime, with all reports treated in confidence.