Gardaí have issued a warning to the public about a rise in the number of money laundering romance scams.
In September 2021, Gardaí received a request for assistance from the Hungarian Police through Interpol.
They were investigating a case of Romance Fraud where a female was deceived into sending $4,000 to fraudulent account. Investigations by the Hungarian Police identified that the money was credited to an Irish bank account.
Garda National Economic Crime Bureau identified who the holder of the account was and an analysis of the account showed that between September 2020 and October 2021, there were 46 suspicious credits into this bank account from 12 different people in eight European countries – Germany, Croatia, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland and the UK.
The total amount credited in this 12-month period was €109,880.28. All of the people who credited the money consisted of 11 females and one male.
Once the credit is made to the account, the funds are immediately withdrawn in cash, transferred electronically and used in point of sale transactions in successive days leaving very little in the account until the next credit is made.
It is suspected that each of the 12 people who credited money to his account are the victims of Romance Fraud.
The holder of this account was arrested this year in June 2022 and the investigation continues.
This particular fraud is enabled via online dating sites or other social media by fraudsters who will provide the victims with well-prepared stories designed to deceive.
The victims develop online relationships with the fraudsters who use fake identities, photographs and life stories.
Inevitably, the fraudster will ask their victim for money. The fraudster will continue to ask for money until the victim has no more money to give or realise they are being deceived.
This crime often leaves vulnerable people with a feeling of hurt and mistrust in addition to their financial loss. In some recent cases we have seen the criminals targeting people with learning difficulties.
The advice from GNECB to any person on a dating site or in communication with a person they never met over social media is:
1. Use reputable dating sites and use their messaging service. Do not move to social media or texting too quickly. Be especially wary of unsolicited links or approaches or suggested likes.
2. Be careful what you share on social media and online dating websites. Do not reveal your full name or home address. Protect your identity.
3. Be wary of anyone asking lots of questions about you but not revealing much about themselves. They will come across as being the ideal person. They will like what you like. Their interests will mirror yours. If you like classical 18th century French Poetry, then so will they. They family situation will mirror yours. They will want what you want. They want you to provide live videos but they can’t / won’t. Watch out for snippets of conversation which are out of sync with previous chats. These fraudsters are engaging with multiple victims at the same time, following scripts prepared for them and they can get mixed up on occasions as to which victim they are talking to.
4. 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 download apps like AnyDesk at their behest or allow them control over your device
5. Do not send them money or pay for medical bills, purchase flights, or VISAs, pay customs fees or make any payment for them to come to visit you.
6. Do not invest your money in any ‘opportunities’ offered by them or anyone whom you only ‘met’ online. Always seek independent financial and legal advice first.
7. Remember individuals can pretend to be anyone they want to be online. You can google an image to see if it comes up on several sites or profiles.
8. Never provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licences.
9. Never make arrangements or travel to meet them unless you are sure of their identity. Make sure you confide in someone and ensure that the person is aware you are confiding in someone else.
10. Save copies of correspondence with him.
11. Don’t be embarrassed about reporting it to Gardaí, you are not alone. These are professional fraudsters who use social engineering tactics over protracted periods of time
12. If you think you have fallen victim, contact your bank immediately. The quicker you act the better chance of recouping any lost funds
From January, 2022 to end of May, 2022 there have been 31 cases reported to An Garda Síochána – 23 female and 8 men. The average age of injured parties who are female is 44 years and the average age for men is 47 years.
The youngest victim was 27 years of age and the oldest was 69 years of age. In all cases, except one the victims, encountered the suspect over a dating app or through social media.
In total, these 31 cases reported the loss of €812,715. In almost every case, the money was transferred to accounts outside Ireland or to bitcoin wallets. This is an International crime type and victims are encountered and exploited online and deceived into transferring money abroad. This is done to ensure the suspects can cash out and to frustrate investigations. An Garda Síochána say that these crimes are underreported.