The suspect was arrested at his Co Waterford home yesterday and is still being detained at Dungarvan Garda Station where he is being questioned by officers from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB).
Senior sources have revealed that over €40,000 from the scam went through the suspect’s bank account and has now been spent by him.
The victim in the case is a German national who was targeted by the gang in her native country earlier this year.
“This suspect has been living in Ireland since 2004 and is originally from Nigeria. This arrest is considered to be highly significant as this individual is suspected of being more than a mere money mule. He has used multiple identities,” a senior source said.
“Phone records will play a major part in this investigation. The victim lost a huge amount of money,” the source added.
The arrest was made as part of Operation Skein which has led to the arrests of dozens of fraud suspects throughout the year.
“Operation SKEIN is an investigation into international BEC/Invoice redirect fraud being committed from Ireland, and the laundering of the proceeds through accounts here,” gardai previously said.
“It is estimated that this criminal organisation has stolen over €18 million worldwide in invoice redirect frauds/BEC frauds with the vast majority laundered through bank accounts in Ireland,” they added.
However, the probe has now expanded into organised international romance fraud.
During the coronavirus pandemic, which led to criminals increasing their attempts to target vulnerable people in romance frauds, gardai have observed a 38 per cent increase in this type of crime last year.
Historically, it appeared that older women were falling victim to this type of crime, but the profile is changing with more males coming forward as well as younger people.
“The traditional problem with this type of crime is that victims would often be too embarrassed to report it to gardai so the belief is that the number of victims out there is higher than many people might think,” the source pointed out.
The scammers – who operate online – convince their victims that they have met their perfect match, and often use a fake profile to build up a relationship.
They gradually gain the victim’s trust over time, with a view to eventually asking them for money.
Gardaí also say romance fraudsters will often attempt to quickly move to communicate away from dating websites and ask a lot of personal questions while avoiding personal questions about themselves.
They will also try to establish a bond quickly, but present obstacles and make excuses to avoid meeting in person, and may mention money problems in the hope that potential victims offer to help.
In 2020 alone, 200 cases were reported to gardai, while known victims were both men and women from all age groups.
The average amount of money lost was in excess of €20,000.
Gardai warned that the Covid-19 Regulations and travel restrictions have resulted in reduced social gatherings and as a result, is generating opportunities for scammers to engage in online Romance Fraud.
Earlier this year it emerged that Leinster based OAP aged in his mid-80’s was the victim of a sinister romance fraud which led him to lose €28,000 after he engaged with a woman on a dating website.
He was fooled into giving over the large figure in what is described as a so-called “inheritance scam” in which he was lured into sending money so that he could retrieve a bigger sum.
GNECB detectives arrested a 47-year-old woman was arrested in the Finglas area in relation to this scam.