75 cases of romance fraud were reported in 2019, resulting in losses suffered in excess of €1 million.
Valentine's Day is traditionally a time for marketing companies and couples who swear they don't take the thing seriously but actually do to shine.
There's a less wholesome aspect to this joyous day of life, though, as outlined by An Garda Síochána - romance fraud.
For the uninitated, romance fraud is a very real concern with 75 such cases reported to the Gardaí in 2019. The total losses suffered among victims - both male and female - amounted to over €1 million.
This specific scam is enabled via online dating websites or other social media platforms by fraudsters who provide victims with well-prepared stories designed to deceive.
The victims subsequently develop online relationships with individuals using fake identities, photographs and life stories. At some point, the fraudster will ask for money, continuing to request it until the victim has no more to give or realises that they are being conned.
Gardaí underline that this particular crime targets vulnerable people, leaving them with a feeling or hurt and mistrust in addition to financial loss.
Notable warning signs include:
- The fraudster asking for money for various reasons, starting with low amounts. Reasons include offering to pay for travel to meet the victim, for moving and/or medical expenses, to invest in a guaranteed business opportunity or to pay bills and/or taxes.
- No meetings in person take place. The fraudster will present reasons for not meeting or may arrange to meet and then cancel.
- The fraudster will ask for money to be transferred to bank accounts abroad or via money transfer agencies to locations outside of Ireland.
- The fraudster will avoid personal questions, though will ask plenty.
- They will ask for money to be transferred to bank accounts abroad or via money transfer agencies to locations outside of Ireland.
- Phone calls from Irish numbers or lodgements to Irish bank accounts should not be considered as evidence that the person is genuine.
In one case cited by the Gardaí, an Irish victim developed a relationship with a male individual on a dating website. He gained her trust and she sent him €62,000 over a period of time. In another case, a victim linked up with a woman in an online chatroom and ended up sending her €50,000.
Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau has advised the general public to:
- Stop and think. Ask yourself; is this person real?
- Never share personal or banking details with unknown persons online.
- Never receive money from or send money to unknown persons online.
- Think twice before using a webcam. Intimate images can be used for blackmail.
- Trust your instincts. If it sounds like it's too good to be true, it is probably not true.
- If in doubt, talk to a family member or a friend.
If you have been the victim of romance fraud, you are encouraged to report it in confidence at your local Garda Station.