PSNI says romance fraud cost victims £700k last year in Northern Ireland

Romance scams have cost victims more than £700,000 in the last year, the PSNI has said.

People looking for love in Northern Ireland have been scammed out of more than £700,000 by fraudsters.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the PSNI has issued a warning about romance scams after receiving 73 reports of this kind of fraud since last April.

Police say these "heart breaking" scams leave victims emotionally and financially drained with the collective loss estimated at £713,133.

Some victims have lost life-changing amounts of more than £20,000, £50,000 and even £100,000. Numerous others have been scammed out of sums running in the hundreds of pounds.

The biggest single loss reported was £130,000 after payments were made over a period of time to a woman the victim met online.

Police said the woman had claimed that money she was entitled to was tied up in an overseas business but she did not have a bank account to access the funds.

After the initial payment, she managed to convince her victim to continue sending money.

In another report, £20,000 was lost by a man who struck up an online relationship with a person he believed to be a celebrity overseas.

The contact continued for several months before his bank intervened raising the alarm.

Elsewhere, £15,000 was lost by a woman who entered into what she believed to be a genuine online relationship with a man who claimed to work in entertainment.

After a while, the man said he had money problems. The woman sent him money, only to realise the person she thought she was dating online was actually a fraudster.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson described romance scams as a “despicable type of crime” which is under-reported because people feel embarrassed.

“By raising awareness of this type of fraud, we hope people will know the signs to look out for and feel empowered to stop fraudsters taking their money,” he said.

“We also want anyone who has lost money in this type of fraud to report it. Our message is: do not feel ashamed. If it has happened to you, tell us – help and support is available.”

He warned that fraudsters seek to build a relationship of trust quickly before requesting money and offering multiple excuses.

“Initially, they’ll appear charming and appear very interested in you, but they’ll have multiple excuses for not being able to meet face to face,” he said.

“They’ll ask for money to help them sort out their problems – for example, medical bills – or to help pay for travel, or some investment opportunity.

“They’ll promise to repay the money, but the harsh reality is they have no intention of doing so.

“Sadly, for some people who believe they’ve found love online, the stark reality is they’ve been emotionally and financially drained. It’s despicable, really heart-breaking.”

Mr Wilson said that, while the majority who use social media or online dating sites are genuine, it is important that people are aware of how to keep themselves and their money safe from scammers.

“Fraudsters don’t care about gender, sexuality, age or race. However, we see some trends in those who lose money – more frequently they’re aged between 30 and 60 years old and women are slightly more likely to lose money than men, but it’s very finely balanced,” he said.

“Fraudsters target everyone – don’t let it be you. Remember, no promising relationship will ever start by sending money to someone you’ve never met.”

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