Over £713,000 Lost To 'Romance Fraud' In NI In Just 10 Months

More than £713,000 has been lost to "romance fraud" across Northern Ireland in the last 10 months, according to new PSNI figures.

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 looking for love.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson, from the Police Service'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 taking their money. 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. This includes life-changing sums of money, including staggering losses of over £100,000, to other amounts of £50,000, £20,000 to hundreds of pounds.

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 continuing sending money.

In another report, £20,000 was reportedly 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. Another report made to police 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. After a while, the man said he had money problems. The woman sent money only to realise the person she thought was in contact with was actually a fraudster.

"Fraudsters seek to build a relationship of trust quickly before requesting money giving multiple excuses," said Detective Chief Inspector Wilson. "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. 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."

Detective Chief Inspector Wilson said the majority of people using social media or online dating sites are genuine, but he said it's important people are aware of how to keep themselves and their money safe from scammers. He said this type of scam could happen at any time of the year.

"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," added Detective Chief Inspector Wilson.

Stay safe online

• Stay on the app - Always keep communication on the dating website or app you're using. Many have inbuilt security and assistance. They also take steps to remove and ban fake accounts so you're safer there.

• Check their socials - Carry out your own research on the person, checking their social media presence to see if it matches what's on the dating site. Looking at key details such as name, location and family members can help identify inconsistencies in what you have been told.

• Check their photo - Profile pictures can be deceiving and be taken from anywhere on the internet. You can use various websites to check photos using a reverse image search to prove if the photo is valid.

• Never ever send money to someone you haven't met in person – If you're looking for friendship, companionship or love online it should never start with being asked for money, and if it does it's not a friend or relationship worth having.

For further advice and information visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page @scamwiseni You can also call Action Fraud via www.actionfraud.police.uk or call 0300 123 2040 or police on the non-emergency number 101 or make a report online via www.psni.police.uk/report.

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