People who have fallen victim to so-called 'romance fraud' were conned out of over €800,000 between January and May, as gardaí issue a warning over increasing incidents of such scams.

An investigation into one alleged scheme began last September after gardaí were asked by Hungarian police to assist on a case where a woman was deceived into sending $4,000 to an Irish bank account.

The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau identified the account holder.

Analysis showed that between September 2020 and October 2021, €109,880.28 was credited to this account through 46 suspicious transactions from 12 different people - 11 women and one man - in eight EU countries - Germany, Croatia, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland and the UK.

Once the credit was made to the account the money was immediately withdrawn, either as cash, transferred electronically or used in point-of-sale transactions.

Gardaí believed that the 12 people who transferred money to this particular account were all victims of ‘romance fraud'.

The holder of the account was arrested earlier this month and investigations are continuing.

Between January and May this year, 23 women and eight men reported this type of fraud to gardaí.

Gardaí said the youngest victim was 27 with the oldest aged 69 and the average age of women who were duped into sending money was 44 and the average age for men was 47.

In all but one of the cases, victims encountered the suspect over a dating app or through social media.

The total loss reported was €812,715 and in almost every case the money was transferred to accounts outside of Ireland or to bitcoin wallets.

Gardaí say they believe this type of fraud is under-reported and have urged people to be cautious about being approached for money by people they meet online.

They said this crime often leaves vulnerable people with feelings of hurt and mistrust and in recent cases they have seen criminals targeting people with learning difficulties.

Gardaí issued the following advice to people on dating sites or in communication with people they have never met over social media:

  • 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.
  • Be careful what you share on social media and online dating websites. Do not reveal your full name or home address. Protect your identity.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Never provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licences.
  • 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. Save copies of correspondence with him.
  • 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
  • If you think you have fallen victim, contact your bank immediately. The quicker you act the better chance of recouping any lost funds