Saturday 22 September 2018

Romance fraud: Irish woman lost €37,000 after falling in love with a man claiming to be a US soldier serving in Afghanistan

Victims fall in love with what they believe are their perfect partners online – until they discover they have been scammed into handing over a substantial amount of money to help solve a financial problem – in what is known as a ‘catfish’ scam.
Stock picture
Victims fall in love with what they believe are their perfect partners online – until they discover they have been scammed into handing over a substantial amount of money to help solve a financial problem – in what is known as a ‘catfish’ scam. Stock picture
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

ROMANCE fraud is blooming on the internet and is becoming a worrying problem for members of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, who say it is on the increase here.

Victims fall in love with what they believe are their perfect partners online – until they discover they have been scammed into handing over a substantial amount of money to help solve a financial problem – in what is known as a ‘catfish’ scam.

Police in the UK are already handling 350 calls a month about romance scams, while some of the international frauds run into hundreds of thousands of euro.

According to the head of the bureau here, Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan, the crime is also becoming prominent in this country.

“We have a good few cases of romance frauds on our books, although none of them is on the scale seen overseas. They say love can be blind and some of the victims have given away thousands of euro to people they have never met,” he said.

The extent of the scam is not fully known because many of the victims are too embarrassed to report the fraud to gardaí.

But one Irish victim lost €37,000 after falling in love with a man claiming to be a US soldier serving in Afghanistan. 

The woman handed over the money to help the man leave his unit and “pay for a replacement”. The money was sent to a person claiming to be a lawyer in Dublin. The woman did not become suspicious until she was asked to raise another €20,000 by taking out a loan against her house.

The man said this was the only way they could marry, and he would refund the money. The woman realised it was a scam, and reported the incident to the US authorities and gardaí.

The request for cash usually comes after the fraudster has spent time building up a relationship with the potential target, often using a fake profile.

Even more popular with the new generation of internet criminals is a scam, known as invoice redirect fraud, which mainly targets businesses that regularly carry out online financial transactions.

Chief Supt Lordan said: “Losses of more than €700,000 have been reported to us in the past two months and, if you include attempted invoice redirect frauds, the total comes to over €1.3m.

“It’s happening on a regular basis and we receive reports of these frauds or attempts at around one per day.”

Criminals operate by doing their homework on the activities of a targeted business and then send an email while pretending to be a legitimate supplier.

The email claims that the supplier has changed bank account details, and indicates that the next payment should be sent to the new account.  Similar requests are sometimes made by letter or a phone call.

The criminal then quickly withdraws the cash transfer from the new account and the business does not realise it is a fraud victim until the legitimate supplier sends a reminder invoice for payment.

Chief Supt Lordan says it is important that the crime is reported quickly if the money is to be recovered – and the information can also produce leads that could help prevent similar crimes.

One high-profile invoice redirect victim was Meath County Council, which was defrauded of €4.3m. But the council acted quickly when officials became suspicious. Gardaí, with assistance from the Hong Kong

police, recovered all of the money before it could be withdrawn by the criminals, who were based overseas.

A data company lost €2.8m in a similar scam, but close co-operation between gardaí and the banking authorities led to €2.76m of the sum being frozen and recovered.

Other victims have not been so lucky, with one business being hit for €150,000 and none of it was recovered, while another handed over €250,000 and only 10pc was traced and seized.

Gardaí are appealing to all victims to report the crimes – and point out that even if their money is not recovered, the reports could help the next target.

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