Gardaí issue Valentine’s Day warning over ‘romance fraud’

Criminal in west of Ireland found guilty of taking nearly €19,000 from victim via app

Gardaí said the extent of this scam was not fully known because many of the victims are too embarrassed to report the fraud. Stock Photograph: Karl Tapales/Getty

Gardaí said the extent of this scam was not fully known because many of the victims are too embarrassed to report the fraud. Stock Photograph: Karl Tapales/Getty

 

Gardaí have issued a Valentine’s Day warning to people about the dangers of online “romance fraud”, with crime gangs targeting dating apps to steal money.

One Irish woman was “showered with expensive gifts, including scarves and perfumes, before she was asked to invest in her suitor’s business”, An Garda Síochána said on Wednesday.

“Over a 13-month period, the woman gave the romance fraudster €48,000. The woman initially delayed reporting the fraud to gardaí as she was married,” a spokeswoman for the force said.

“Victims of the scam believe they have met their perfect match online, but the other person is in fact a scammer using a fake profile to build the relationship. They slowly gain the victim’s trust with a view to eventually asking them for money.”

Gardaí said the extent of this scam was not fully known because many of the victims are too embarrassed to report the fraud.

Detective Inspector Catharina Gunne of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau said romance fraudsters may try to get their victims to send them money using the excuse that the money will cover the costs of their travel to see the victim.

Business opportunity

They may also seek money for supposed “emergency medical expenses” for the scammer or a family member - typically a child.

Another way of scamming money from the victim involves the fraudster claiming they have a business opportunity which would allow them and their target “to live together comfortably”.

“In the beginning, the amount of money requested will often be small but increases as the scammer becomes more successful in building the ‘relationship’ and tricking the victim,” Det Insp Gunne said.

She said that, recently, a romance fraudster in the west of Ireland was found guilty of taking nearly € 19,000 from a victim.

“The perpetrator obtained money through deception over a five-month period after meeting the victim through a dating website.”

An Garda Síochána said it worked closely with Europol to disrupt the activities of romance scammers, particularly organised crime gangs that engage in this type of criminality.

It said dating websites are often monitored for criminality.

Some of the tricks used by romance fraudsters include trying to move communications with their victim away from the dating website, to instant messaging, text or phone calls instead.

They may ask a lot of personal questions but avoid answering personal questions about themselves. Often, details that they do reveal may seem made up or do not reflect reality.

Meeting in person

Gardaí say such fraudsters may, for example, claim to be university educated but that their spelling and grammar are poor.

They may also try to establish a bond quickly and use an “endearing” pet name, or they may tell their victim about money problems in the hope they will offer to help.

Gardaí say the scammers will not meet in person and may go as far as making arrangements and cancelling at the last minute.

They recommended that people only use trusted dating websites, that they do not share personal details and that they do not send or receive money from someone they connect with via such services.

They also urge people to think carefully before using a webcam and to trust their instincts.

“If you believe that you are a victim of a romance scam, or think your identity or personal information has been compromised, contact any Garda station and report the crime. Please be assured that An Garda Síochána will treat all reports in confidence,” the spokeswoman said.