Romance scams spreading in Finland | News | #whatsapp | #lovescams | #phonescams

In the first half of this year, people in Finland lost some 3.8 million euros to online romance scams. The typical victim is in a vulnerable position, kind-hearted and willing to help others.

A scammer may keep in touch with a victim patiently and skilfully building up a relationship through messages for months, sometimes even years. Image: Arash Matin / Yle

There has been a sharp increase in romance-related scams in Finland in recent years, typically run by professional criminals who have created large organisations for their operations. They are skilful at taking advantage of their victims’ vulnerability and feelings of loneliness, authorities say.

Detective Inspector Gunnar Golnick of the Häme Police Department says that in the majority of cases, the victim is lured into becoming infatuated, even falling in love with the scammer. Once hooked, the victims may believe the most incredible stories. Ultimately, these involve sending money to solve some acute, invented problem.

The victims are usually unsuspecting, helpful people by nature who are overcome by strong emotions.

Between January and June 2022, people in Finland lost 10.8 million euros to fraudsters. Of this, 3.8 million have ended up in document and romance scams. According to the Finnish financial sector grouping Finance Finland (FFI), in terms of losses, this this the most common type of online fraud.

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Henry Johansson of Espoo saw his elderly mother’s finances collapsed because of a romance scam. She lost her money and has had to restructure debts.   Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Financial disaster

Henry Johansson‘s suspicions were aroused this past spring as soon as his elderly mother told him about her new online acquaintance. What she told him had all the hallmarks of a scam – supposedly the man was in the military, and he had to go abroad on a secret mission.

Johansson’s mother had not met the man or spoken to him on the phone. Contact was only through text messaging via WhatsApp.

After reading the messages, Johansson realised that it was a classic case of fraud.

“The man wrote in clumsy Finnish, which clearly came from Google translate. I told mom it was a scammer,” he relates.

His mother emphatically denied that she had sent money to the man. Johansson stressed to her that no money should be sent and let it be.

The harsh truth came to light a few months later. Johansson’s mother had lost her savings and also taken on debt to help the scammer. She is now financially destitute and has filed a criminal complaint. 

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Police: Numerous actors

Detective Inspector Jani Ortamala of the Central Finland Police Department confirmed that his department was investigating a romance scam, looking to bring charges including aggravated fraud. The victim was deceived into paying more than 100,000 euros into several accounts.

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In romance scams, messages are mostly exchanged via computer and smartphone. The scammer rarely agrees to talk on the phone or meet his victim. Image: Eleni Paspatis / Yle

In this case, the victim was initially contacted via Facebook and convinced to send money through a variety of ruses. The funds went into three different accounts, which are apparently at least partially owned by fake business entities.

Ortamala cannot yet confirm whether or not this case is part of a larger series of fraud, because similar scams are carried out by numerous actors.

Victims may unwittingly commit crimes

The same scammer may be targeting two or three victims at the same time.

“The money is first transferred between the accounts of the victims before moving abroad from someone’s account,” explained Golnick.

According to Golnick, the owners of the accounts where scammers temporarily deposit funds are known as “money mules”. Even if the account owners believe the scammer’s stories and act in good faith, some of them commit money laundering offenses when the funds pass through their accounts.

Intervening can be difficult if you suspect that a loved one is the target of a romance scam, Golnick notes.

“Almost the only way is to try to get the victim to understand that it is a scam, and not true love,” he says.

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Detective Inspector Gunnar Golnick says that if and when the money scammers ask for is transferred abroad, it is almost impossible to track it down and get it back. Image: Mika Moksu / Yle

Gone without a trace

A fabulous new online love interest can seem too good to be true. If it feels that way, it is probably a scammer, said Golnick.

Most of the time, any money sent to scammers is lost forever. 

Golnick pointed out that once it is transferred abroad, any traces of the money are gone and the actual perpetrators get away with their crime. At best, an intermediary may be caught.

Despite all the warnings, romance scams have become a part of everyday police work.

“Most recently, yesterday morning, a criminal complaint was filed by someone who was defrauded of money with empty promises,” said Golnick.

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