A woman from Northern Ireland was targeted by a fraudster through Facebook, who conned her into a three year relationship.

 The victim, who wishes to remain anonymous, was lured into the relationship which started three years ago, but just three months in he started to ask for money from her.

It started with the romance fraudster asking her for money so he could send his children to England for a better education, but developed into him asking for money to invest in Ghana and Dubai. In total, she sent the man more than £300,000 which was deposited into different accounts at his request. Police are unsure of where the scammer is from, but believe he may be moving around internationally, meaning the chances of finding him and ever recovering any money are slim to none.

Superintendent Simon Walls spoke to ITV.com and described the case as one of the biggest romance frauds his unit has seen in a long time. He said the woman has been left devastated by the elaborate deception. “Inquiries are ongoing into this fraud which has, understandably, had a devastating impact on the victim,” he said. “We receive reports of fraud on a regular basis and, no matter how big or small the amount of money is that a victim loses, every loss is felt by those targeted. However, this is one of the bigger scams where a victim has been swindled out of such a significant amount of money. Sadly, we received another report recently, where a similar amount of money was lost in a scam.”

Mr Walls said romance scams are not the most common type reported to police, but they are more personally hurtful to victims. “We have fewer romance scams than the HMRC scams, fewer than scams involving broadband and probably fewer than TV licensing scams, but it has that added dimension that as well as someone’s bank account being emptied, their heart is being broken,” he said. “It becomes really personal (for the victim), because you let them into your life, tell them all about your past and your secrets, and someone then ends up falling in love with the individual, so these are probably the most insidious of all, and not to generalise, but some who respond to these are vulnerable.”

Romance scammers use companionship and friendship to target victims. Their end goal is to obtain money from you, getting you to pay for goods or services. They communicate with you, using social media networks, online forums and internet dating sites.

What to look out for?

They may ask you to communicate offline using instant messaging, texts or phone calls to develop a strong emotional relationship. They will ask you a lot of personal questions and rarely divulge anything truthful about themselves. They may ask you for money, stating they are experiencing financial difficulties through no fault of their own. They will make arrangements to meet you, cancel at the last minute, you will probably never meet these people face to face.

How to prevent yourself from becoming a victim?

  • Only use reputable websites
  • Be very careful about how much personal information you share
  • Never send money or give credit card details, bank account details, or any personal documentation.
  • Trust your instincts, if something doesn’t feel right, end communication or call the authorities.

Romance Fraud happens when a victim is tricked into thinking they have entered into a genuine relationship with someone they have met via a dating app, online profile or through social media. In reality, the victim is unknowingly communicating with a fraudster, who’s only intention is to gain enough trust to then steal their money, personal information or even identity.

New statistics revealed that people across the UK continue to fall victim to romance scams, and the consequences can be devastating. In 2018, 4,555 reports of romance fraud were made to Action Fraud, the total cost of this is over £50 million.

Action Fraud are warning that the emotional impact of romance scams can be even more difficult to come to terms with than the loss of money. In a report produced by Action Fraud, 42% of victims described falling victim to romance fraud as having a significant impact on their health or financial well-being.

The report also showed that the average age of a romance fraud victim is 50 and that 63% of dating fraud victims are female who lose twice as much on average than males. It is thought that these numbers do not accurately represent the true scale of the problem, as most victims feel embarrassed or ashamed to have fallen victim and never report it to the authorities.

Action Fraud recommend the following tips to avoid romance scams:

  1. Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions.
  2. Analyse their profile and check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
  3. Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
  4. Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.
  5. Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you’re going to be.
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