A senior PSNI officer has warned people looking for love online to be on the alert for romance scams after two reports involving two women from counties Antrim and Down who lost a total of almost £105,000.
Warning of the scams of the heart ahead of Valentine’s Day, Chief Superintendent Simon Walls, said: “Unfortunately, we continue to see members of the public lose very significant amounts of money in online and telephone scams.
“Last year, between 1st January and 30th September there were a total of 39 reports relating to dating scams in Northern Ireland when more than £218,000 was taken/scammed from people.
“While these are alarming statistics we believe romance scams are significantly under reported. We think many people are simply too embarrassed to tell us they have been scammed in a romance fraud.
“In both of the cases reported to us in the last fortnight, both women were tricked by fraudsters. They had been befriended by two men online who duped them into sending substantial amounts of money.
“The first report, made to us on Monday 4th February, involved a woman who had been befriended by a man online claiming to be in the US Army.
“The pair were in touch for around a month before things took a romantic turn. From May last year, the man told the woman a number of stories, including that he was being detained by authorities in Africa, in a bid to get her to give him money.
“The woman believed the man’s stories, and was conned into sending him £65,000. She truly believed this man was genuine as she had found a profile online that matched his details.
“The second report, involving a woman in north Down, was reported to us on Sunday 10th February.
“It was reported the woman had entered into an online relationship with a man claiming to live in the USA where he worked as an engineer.
“They had been in touch since November and the man eventually asked the woman for money for projects. She trusted the man and believed his story, and sent him payments totalling £40,000.
“Sadly, for these two women they will not get their money back as they gave it to the fraudsters voluntarily.
“These reports illustrate how scammers don’t care about their victims; that they’re happy to take advantage of people’s vulnerability and good faith. Unfortunately, there is no end to the methods fraudsters will use to dupe people into giving them money.
“Romance scammers don’t prey on a specific gender, sexuality, race or age. They target everyone, just don’t let it be you. Don’t let yourself become a statistic. Protect yourself if you want to use the internet in search of love or companionship.
“Start off with a reputable website. Look out for someone asking lots of questions, but not giving any detail about themselves. Don’t ever hand over any money or send goods such as iPhones or iPads. Never let anyone you don’t know or trust, transfer money into your bank account.
“If you want to buy that something special for someone on Valentine’s Day, make sure you shop from reputable websites and that you keep your details safe. There will be lots of enticing offers so think smart and stay scam wise.
“If you have been targeted in this way, please report it to Action Fraud via their website www.actionfraud.police.uk or by phoning 0300 123 2040, or call police on the non-emergency number 101.
“Further advice and information can also be obtained by visiting www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page @scamwiseni”