Bad romance: Online daters warned about fraud before Valentine’s Day

Nearly 200 cases of ‘romance fraud ’reported last year, with €20,000 lost on average

Online fraudsters will typically seek to avoid meeting their intended victim in person. Photograph: iStock

Online fraudsters will typically seek to avoid meeting their intended victim in person. Photograph: iStock

 

People should be on their guard for potential “romance fraud” around St Valentine’s Day, An Garda Síochána has said.

Romance fraud typically involves a fraudster developing an online relationship with their victims, using fake identities, photographs and life stories.

“Inevitably, the fraudster will ask their victim for money. The fraudster will continue to ask for money until the victim has no more money to give or realise they are being deceived," An Garda Síochána said.

Gardaí said there has been an increase in romance fraud recently with nearly 200 cases recorded in 2020 where the average amount of money lost was more than €20,000. The victims were male and female from all age groups.

“The Covid-19 regulations and travel restrictions have resulted in reduced social gatherings and as a result is generating opportunities for fraudsters to engage in online romance fraud,” An Garda Síochána said.

“This particular 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.”

Gardaí said in addition to the financial loss, the crime often leaves vulnerable people with a feeling of hurt and mistrust.

“In some recent cases we have seen the criminals targeting people with learning difficulties.”

An Garda Síochána said people should beware of individuals seeking to communicate through channels other than the dating website who then start seeking money for reasons such as travel, medical expenses or a business opportunity.

They said fraudsters will attempt to avoid meetings in person, will not answer personal questions but will ask plenty of them and could ask for money to be transferred to bank accounts abroad or in Ireland.

“In one recent case an Irish victim developed a relationship with a female from the United States on a dating website. Over a period of months, for spurious reasons she asked him for money and in total the victim suffered a loss of over €21,000 (over five separate transactions),” gardaí said.

Garda National Economic Crime Bureau Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan said people should trust their instincts. “If it sounds too good to be true, it is probably not true.”

He urged anyone who feels they have been a victim of romance fraud to report it to An Garda Síochána.