GARDAÍ HAVE issued a warning to the public urging them to be vigilant of 'romance fraud' ahead of St Valentine's Day tomorrow.
An Garda Síochána dealt with 75 cases of 'romance fraud' in 2019 alone-- with victims losing over €1 million in total.
A type of catfishing, romance fraud occurs online when a person sets up a fake account, gains the trust and begins an online relationship with the victim before tricking them into giving them money-- often large amounts.
Gardaí have warned that these fraudsters have 'well-prepared stories designed to deceive', and are in posession of convincing photographs, identities and life stories.
"Inevitably, the fraudster will ask their victim for money," aspokesperson for Gardaí said.
"The fraudster will continue to ask for money until the victim has no more money to give or realise they are being conned. This crime often leaves vulnerable people with a feeling of hurt and mistrust in addition to their financial loss."
Gardaí released a statement describing the warning signs of romance fraud, which include:
• The fraudster may ask you to communicate by instant messaging, text or phone calls rather than messaging through the dating website
• The fraudster will start asking for money for various reasons, starting with low amounts:
- to pay for travel to meet you
- to pay moving expenses (ship furniture and pay customs)
- to pay medical expenses for a sick child or relative
- to invest in a guaranteed business opportunity
- to pay a tax bill or other spurious reason
• The fraudster will not meet you in person. They may present reasons for not meeting, or may arrange to meet and then cancel
• The fraudster will avoid personal questions, but 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.
Gardaí went on to provide examples of Irish people who had been hurt and robbed by these types of online scams, such as one woman who sent a fraudster €62,000 in total after he gained her trust.
Another male victim sent €50,000 to a woman he had met in an online chat room.
In a statement, Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau provided some tips to prevent falling for these types of romance scams. He wrote:
• STOP AND THINK! ASK YOURSELF, IS THIS PERSON REAL? - If you are asked for money by a person with whom you are in an on-line relationship
• NEVER share personal or banking details with unknown persons online.
• NEVER receive money from, or send money to persons unknown.
• THINK twice before using a webcam (intimate images can be used for blackmail).
• TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS – if it sounds like it is too good to be true, it is probably not true.
• IF IN DOUBT, talk to a family member or a friend.
Anyone who has been the victim of this type of fraud is urged to contact their local Garda Station.