A RECENT VICTIM of a romance scam was conned out of almost €7,000 when he paid the ‘custom fees’ for an American woman who he believed was retiring to Ireland to be with him.
George, whose name has been changed, told fraud awareness group, FraudSMART, that he met Sarah on a dating app, believing she lived in the United States.
They chatted for several months before Sarah told him she planned to retire to Ireland and wanted to use his retirement fund to buy a property where they both could live.
George said Sarah even called when she got to the airport before her flight to Ireland was due to depart.
Later that day, George received a call to say that Sarah’s belongings were in customs and that the fee needed to be paid urgently or the items would be returned to the US.
George was told officials could not get in touch with Sarah as she was on the flight. He then transferred €6,750 to a bank account which he believed to be above board. Unbeknown to George, the account turned out to be the Philippines.
On finding out that he was the victim of fraud, George told FraudSMART that he did not want to tell his friends or family about the scam and felt even more isolated than he had prior to meeting ‘Sarah’ online.
He also felt a huge sense of loss as he had invested much more than money in the relationship – time, emotion as well as what he thought was a real personal connection.
FraudSMART, which is the fraud awareness initiative of Banking & Payments Federation Ireland, says that romance scams, like George’s, are on the rise due to the current pandemic, with victims conned out of an average sum of €18,000 in 2020.
The group said that fraudsters have taken advantage of the rising number of people online and are “preying on people’s loneliness, isolation and vulnerability”.
Last year, victims of so-called romance scams were scammed out of an average of €18,000 and in some cases, this rose as high as €50,000, according to the group.
“This is a very significant sum of money and underlines the serious nature of these scams and the need for people to extra vigilant to them,” Niamh Davenport, Head of Digital & Fraud Prevention, BPFI said.
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“By using online dating sites or apps the fraudster’s objective is to gain trust and build up a relationship and emotional connection with their victim. They will often devote months to this process, after which time they will create a sense of urgency in order to ask their victim for money or indeed in many cases have the victim offer them money.”
Davenport said that oftentimes people caught up in these types of scams are too embarrassed to report the crime, and said it is critically important to dispel any shame victims of such scams may feel, as well as knowing how to protect yourself.
“If you think you have fallen victim to such a crime contact your bank and An Garda Siochana immediately, the quicker you act the better your chance of recouping any lost funds,” she said.
FraudSMART advice on romance scams:
- Protect your identity and do not reveal your full name or home address.
- Be wary of anyone asking lots of questions about you but not revealing much about themselves.
- Use a reputable dating site and use its messaging service. Do not move to social media or texting too quickly.
- Never send money or give your bank details to somebody you have never met, no matter how much you believe and trust them.
- Do not purchase flights, or VISAs or pay customs fees for them to visit you.
- Remember individuals can pretend to be anyone they want to be online. You should google an image to see if it comes up on several sites or profiles.
- Never provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses.
- If you think you have fallen victim contact your bank immediately, the quicker you act the better chance of recouping any lost funds.