While February 14th is typically the most romantic day of the year, romance scams can happen at any time of the year.
Gardaí say that in 2021, romance fraud increased by 86pc, with the majority of victims being women (70pc).
“Be wary of online relationships, especially if you are asked for money or to invest in a scheme or business,” a Garda spokesperson said.
Gardaí say that romance fraudsters may try to get their victims to send them money using many excuses, but the most common are:
• To cover the cost of travelling to see the victim.
• For emergency medical expenses for the scammer or a family member, typically a child.
• A business opportunity which would allow them to live together comfortably.
“There is an ever increasing link between romance fraud and investment fraud,” a Garda spokesperson said.
“In many cases, scammers will ask victims to invest in a fraudulent scheme or business. Such investments ultimately see the funds transferred to the fraudster through a number of linked accounts.”
“Members of the public are advised to be vigilant as there are huge risks involved in investing in cryptocurrencies and not to share any money with someone they meet through online websites or apps and to get professional and legal advice before investing,” they advised.
“An Garda Síochána works closely with Europol to disrupt the activities of romance scammers, particularly organised crime gangs that engage in this type of criminality; as well as monitoring dating sites for this activity.”
Some examples of romance fraud provided by Gardaí include how a 41-year-old woman was contacted by a male claiming to be a well-known musician. She became romantically involved with him online and was defrauded of over €26,000.
In another instance, a 65-year-old woman contacted Gardaí to report that she was at the loss of €35,000, as a result of meeting a male through social media.
Throughout their online relationship she was convinced to purchase stream cards and send the codes directly onto her male friend, subsequently she then transferred money to various accounts in Malaysia.
In another instance, a 38-year-old man reported that he began engaging online with a woman.
The woman then stated she needed money to return home from Mexico. He then sent her €3,800 via Bitcoin in one transaction.
Highlighting the signs of romance fraud, Gardai said that scammers will:
• Try to move communications away from dating websites. They suggest that you move to instant messaging, text or phone calls instead.
• Ask a lot of personal questions.
• Avoid answering personal questions about themselves. The details that they do tell you seem made up or do not reflect reality. For instance, they may say that they are university educated, but their spelling and grammar is poor.
• Try to establish a bond quickly. For example, they may give you an endearing pet name e.g. baby, darling, etc.
• Ask for financial help. They may tell you about money problems in the hope that you will offer to help.
• Ask you to invest in a fraudulent scheme or business.
• Never meet you in person. They will present obstacles and may go as far as making arrangements and cancelling them at the last minute. They may promise to want to see you but offer excuses which delay this, such as financial troubles.
What can you do?
• Use trusted dating websites
• Do not share personal details
• Do not send or receive money
• Think twice before using your webcam
• Trust your instincts
An Garda Síochána have said that if you have been a victim of a romance scam you should report it and have said that they will treat all reports in confidence.