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Heartless Almost 200 cases of ‘romance fraud’ reported to gardaí last year with average loss over €20k

Gardaí said internet users need to be extra cautious as Covid-19 regulations and travel restrictions have resulted in reduced social gatherings and as a result is generating opportunities for fraudsters to engage in online fraud.

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All You Need Is Love artwork by Damien Hirst (PA)

All You Need Is Love artwork by Damien Hirst (PA)

All You Need Is Love artwork by Damien Hirst (PA)

Almost 200 cases of ‘romance fraud’ were reported to gardaí last year with the average money lost by victims in excess of €20,000.

Ahead of St Valentine’s Day, An Garda Síochána is warning the public to be vigilant while online dating, as many fraudsters use it as an opportunity to scam money from matches.

Some of these fraudsters are also targeting people with learning disabilities.

Gardaí said internet users need to be extra cautious as Covid-19 regulations and travel restrictions have resulted in reduced social gatherings and as a result is generating opportunities for fraudsters to engage in online fraud.

"This particular fraud is enabled via online dating sites or other social media by fraudsters who will provide the victims with well-prepared stories designed to deceive,” a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said.

"The victims develop online relationships with the fraudsters, who use fake identities, photographs and life stories. Inevitably, the fraudster will ask their victim for money.

"The fraudster will continue to ask for money until the victim has no more money to give or realise they are being deceived.

"This crime often leaves vulnerable people with a feeling of hurt and mistrust in addition to their financial loss.”

In a recent case, an Irish victim was scammed of €21,000 in total from five separate transactions.

They developed a relationship with a female in the US on a dating website and she asked for money from him over a period of months for various reasons.

In these scams, it is often the case that the fraudster will ask for small amounts of money first for things like paying for travel to meet the victim, paying a bill or paying for medical expenses for a sick relative.

However, rarely meetings in person will actually take place. Other signs of ‘romance fraud’, according to gardaí, is that the person will avoid answering personal questions but will ask the victim plenty.

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Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau has advised the public the following:

•Stop and think! Ask yourself, is this person real? - If you are asked for money by a person with whom you are in an online 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.

• If you have been the victim of this type of crime, please report it in confidence to your local Garda station.

• If you are a guardian or friend to someone with intellectual difficulties, be alert to the dangers of romance fraud.

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