Romance scams: police figures show more than £700k lost to online fraudsters over the last 10 months in Northern Ireland
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Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the PSNI wants to raise awareness of this type of cruel and very personal fraud committed by criminals looking to swindle people searching for love.
Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson from the PSNI’s Economic Crime Unit said: “This is a despicable type of crime which, we believe, is under reported because people feel embarrassed. 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. 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."
Between April 2023 and the start of February this year, there were 73 reports of romance scams made to the PSNI, with a total loss of £713,133.
The biggest loss reported to police was £130,000 after payments over a period of time had been made to a woman the person 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, the woman managed to convince the person to continue sending money.
In another report, £20,000 was lost by a man who struck up an online relationship with a person he believed to be a celebrity overseas. The contact continued for several months before his bank raised the alarm.
Another report cited a loss of £15,000 by a woman who had developed what she believed to be a genuine online relationship with a man who said he worked in the entertainment industry and who claimed he had money problems. The woman sent money only to later realise the person was actually a fraudster.
“Fraudsters seek to build trust quickly before requesting money," said Detective Chief Inspector Wilson. "Initially, they'll appear charming and 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, [and] they'll promise to repay the money, but the harsh reality is they have no intention of doing so.
"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."
While the majority of people using social media or online dating sites are genuine, it's important people are aware of how to keep themselves and their money safe, Detective Chief Inspector Wilson added: "Fraudsters don't care about gender, sexuality, age or race. 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. 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."