Gardaí in Cork are investigating a number of instances of romance fraud, including one case where a person lost over €100,000.
They are warning people to be wary of sending money to anyone online, and have stressed that no one should be embarrassed if they are a victim of such scams, many of which are very sophisticated or target vulnerable people.
The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau is pursuing a number of cases after people lost large sums, according to Detective Inspector Mel Smyth.
Investigations have been carried out into one such case in North Cork which involved a man being duped into sending thousands of euro worth of bitcoin to a person he met on a dating site.
The man met a person online who convinced him that she needed money sent to her because of a personal emergency.
The money was to be wired through Western Union, but the man could not do so because he was not close to a Western Union outlet.
However, the scammer advised the man that he could instead send the money through a bitcoin ATM, and managed to advise him of the location of one of the few such ATMs in Cork City.
In many cases, such scams are operated outside of Ireland, making it very difficult to get money back or bring scammers to justice.
Gardaí said that in this case, the money was not recovered.
Crime prevention officer for Cork North, Sergeant John Kelly, said the case highlighted how scammers were turning to bitcoin for such scams. He said the case “gives an idea of how well researched this crime is”.
In another case this year, an Irish victim met an American woman on a dating website. Over a period of months, she asked him for money on five different occasions, and he lost more than €21,000 in the fraud.
Romance frauds are examples of social engineering frauds, which involve people being targeted for money after meeting someone online either on social media or on a dating app.
Detective inspector Smyth said fraudsters will target people who have suffered a loss or a separation or are vulnerable in some other way, and prey on their sympathy.
He said that on some occasions, contact is made between two people after one of the parties views a person’s online profile on a social media site and they become connected. The person who viewed the profile knows a lot of personal details about the person before they become connected simply by viewing their profile, and manages to build a relationship by using the information.
Detective Inspector Smyth continued: “As time goes on, they will start looking for money.
He said that there could also be a money demand made if arrangements are made for the two people to meet, with the fraudster pretending that their bank card has been stolen and that they cannot pay their fare to travel.
He said: “If you are engaging with people on social media or on a dating site — once they start looking for money, that should be an enormous red flag.”
Gardaí believe they do not have a full picture of the true extent of romance fraud because many people are too embarrassed to come forward.