More than £700,000 has been scammed out of people in Northern Ireland by fraudsters targeting individuals looking for love.
Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the Police Service of Northern Ireland revealed they received 73 reports of romance fraud between April last year and the start of February.
The total loss has been put at £713,133, including life-changing amounts of more than £100,000, £50,000 and £20,000, and other sums running into hundreds of pounds.
Romance scammers aren't looking for love. They're only after money & don't care about broken hearts, or the impact of their fraud. Follow our 'stop check report' advice to spot the signs of a romance scam and keep your money out of the hands of criminals: https://t.co/u8J9dVGDd5 pic.twitter.com/hzzPavPIo9
— Police Service NI (@PoliceServiceNI) February 12, 2024
The biggest single loss reported to the PSNI was £130,000 after payments were made over a period of time to a woman the victim met online.
Police said the woman had claimed that money she was entitled to was tied up in an overseas business but she did not have a bank account to access the funds.
After the initial payment, she managed to convince her victim 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 stepped in and raised the alarm.
Elsewhere, £15,000 was lost 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.
After a while, the man said he had money problems. The woman sent him money, only to realise the person she thought she was in contact with was actually a fraudster.
Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson described romance scams as a “despicable type of crime” which police 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 taking their money,” he said.
“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.”
He warned that fraudsters seek to build a relationship of trust quickly before requesting money and offering multiple excuses.
“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,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Wilson said that, while the majority who use social media or online dating sites are genuine, it is important that people are aware of how to keep themselves and their money safe from scammers.
“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 and 60 years old and women are slightly more likely to lose money than men, but it’s very finely balanced,” he said.
“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.”
– For further advice and information visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page @scamwiseni.