Cyber criminals specialising in romance fraud are targeting lonely Irish people during the lockdown, a top cop has warned.
Det Chief Supt Pat Lordan said online con artists are preying on those stuck at home feeling alone and vulnerable.
And the head of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau warned people looking for love online to watch out for scammers.
Det Chief Supt Lordan told the Irish Sunday Mirror: “Now is the time when people are probably sitting at home and feeling lonely and there’s a huge amount of romance fraud.
“It’s where people will build up a relationship and then start looking for money. Now is the perfect climate for that.
“We haven’t seen any increase in it lately but we will. They contact you through any media – Facebook or one of the dating websites.
“So they set up a relationship online, they never meet the person and are more than likely living in a different country.
“For example, one might be a doctor in France, Germany or Italy and then in six weeks’ time they say something terrible has happened and that their daughter has Covid-19 and they need money for her care.
“The next thing the target is sending on €5,000.
“People will have to look out for this kind of fraud. We are not trying to frighten people, this is the reality.
“You need to be aware that the scams will come, the looking for help, the looking for money.
“They will prey on the vulnerable.”
He said the bureau, which consists of 50 highly-trained officers, has already been dealing with Covid-19 scams for weeks and managed to get €50,000 back for a business that was duped.
He said: “What happens with these scams is that the company will get an email from them saying that due to changes in the banking system they are changing their bank from Bank of Ireland say to AIB.
“The business will change the details and send it to the new bank account not realising it is to the criminals. We have had a few of them in the last few weeks.
“The luck that the fraudster has at the moment, he never has to go onto the street so this really suits him as he has an extra audience looking at him.
“At the moment we are probably all spending far too much time on our phones and computers.”
The warning comes as Bank of Ireland issued a caution to customers over a text scam aimed at fooling them into divulging all six numbers of their online pin.
Earlier this week it emerged that an Irishman was being quizzed as part of a €15 million Covid-19 face mask scam.
Police forces across two continents are now trying to unravel a complex web of cloned and bogus websites.
Scammers have also targeted those in receipt of Covid-19 payments from the Government trying to dupe them into handing some of the cash over.
Det Lordan said: “We have a very good relationship with Interpol and a lot of other agencies throughout the world, and we are seeing a massive rise in Covid-19 scams.
“They range from people ordering products online, hand sanitizers, gloves, and the products never arrive as you have purchased it through a bogus company.
“By the time you realise that the products aren’t arriving the money is well gone. Any weakness in our system at all will be worked upon by the criminals.
“They will tweak emails and everything else to suit the current situation. We are seeing a lot of texts and WhatsApp messages from fraudsters pretending to be from the likes of An Post.
“One of the scams is where they say that your parcel or post has been stopped and to send on €2 and your bank account details. An Post will never do that.
“Our advice is don’t open any of those messages or attachments.”
The GNECB is tackling a constantly expanding criminal industry which is conservatively valued at €3.7trillion a year.
Recent high profile victims include Dublin Zoo and Meath County Council. In each case the GNECB managed to recover all or part of the stolen taxpayers’ money.
Detective Chief Superintendent Lordan said the best advice he would give to people is to be extra vigilant and question if the email or message they have been sent is legitimate.
He concluded: “I would urge people to look at their online security. But number one would be to look at their passwords.
“When did they last change it? It is really worth it now to go and change all of your passwords and don’t share them. Don’t have the same password for everything.
“When picking a password ask yourself what does nobody know about you? Don’t pick a birthday or your pet’s name. Pick something that nobody else will know.”