A retired woman lost well over €100,000 when she was targeted as part of an organised ‘romance fraud’ scam.
Three Nigerian nationals remained in garda custody last night after they were arrested by fraud squad detectives in planned raids in Blanchardstown, Drogheda and Navan.
Detectives from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) are now examining computers, phones and other devices.
“At least five victims of this gang have been identified so far but we would expect that number to greatly increase once the devices have been fully examined,” a senior source said.
The woman was convinced to transfer large sums of cash to accounts in Ireland, Turkey, Dubai and Vietnam over a nine-month period, having met with fraudsters online via a dating site, according to gardaí.
The arrested suspects, aged between 22 and 30, have been living in Ireland for some time.
The incidences of romance fraud scams are traditionally higher around times like Valentine’s Day. But the coronavirus pandemic lockdown led to a spike in cases because the gangs were able to take advantage of some people who were stuck at home feeling alone and vulnerable.
Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan, of the GNECB, said: “This is a novel investigation as the senders of such emails have never been arrested in Ireland before.
“To date, the belief would always have been that criminal groups engaged in this activity are operating from outside this jurisdiction.
“This investigation shows that this is not always the case. It is anticipated that numerous injured parties from all over the world will now be identified. We would encourage other victims of this type of fraud to report incidents to local gardaí.”
In February, gardaí announced that the GNECB had received more than 75 reports of so-called ‘romance fraud’ last year, with Irish victims being conned out of more than €1m. This figure is due to increase this year.
The scammers convince their victims that they have met their perfect match, and often use a fake profile to build up a relationship.
They gradually gain the victim’s trust over time, with a view to eventually asking them for money.