MORE than £700k has been stolen by romance scammers who have duped 73 unsuspecting victims in Northern Ireland.
Ahead of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, the PSNI has revealed the details of some of the most devastating scams inflicted on people via online fraudsters pretending to be love interests.
In the last 10 months, from April 2023 and February 2024, just over £713,000 was stolen as a result of romance fraud, according to the PSNI figures.
The PSNI received 73 reports of romance scams, with a total loss of £713,133, they confirmed today.
The amounts stolen including losses of over £100k and other amounts ranging from £50,000 and £20,000 to hundreds of pounds.
The biggest single loss reported to police was £130,000 where one victim made multiple payments over a period of time to a woman they met online.
The woman claimed money she was entitled to was tied up in an overseas business, but she didn’t have a bank account to access the funds.
After the initial payment was made, the woman managed to convince the person to continuing sending her money.
Another victim lost £20,000 after striking up what he thought was a relationship with a celebrity overseas.
Their contact continued for several months before his bank stepped in and raised the alarm.
“Fraudsters seek to build a relationship of trust quickly before requesting money giving multiple excuses," Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson, from the PSNI’s Economic Crime Unit, said.
"Initially, they'll appear charming and appear very interested in you, but they'll have multiple excuses for not being able to meet face-to-face.
“They'll ask for money to help them sort out their problems, for example medical bills, or to help pay for travel, or some investment opportunity.
“They'll promise to repay the money, but the harsh reality is they have no intention of doing so.”
He added: "Sadly, for some people who believe they've found love online, the stark reality is they've been emotionally and financially drained. It's despicable, really heart-breaking."
The PSNI have highlighted trends they witness in the romance scams, such as the type of victims who are targeted.
"Fraudsters don't care about gender, sexuality, age or race,” Det Chf Insp Wilson said.
“However, we see some trends in those who lose money – more frequently they’re aged between 30-60 years old and women are slightly more likely to lose money than men, but it’s very finely balanced.”
He added: “Fraudsters target everyone - don't let it be you. Remember, no promising relationship will ever start by sending money to someone you've never met,"
The PSNI have urged victims of this type of crime to come forward, claiming the actual incidences of it are likely to be much higher.
“This is a despicable type of crime which, we believe, is under reported because people feel embarrassed,” Det Chf Insp Wilson said.
“By raising awareness of this type of fraud, we hope people will know the signs to look out for and feel empowered to stop fraudsters taking their money,” he added.
“We also want anyone who has lost money in this type of fraud to report it.
“Our message is, do not feel ashamed. If it has happened to you tell us, help and support is available.”