The Police Service of Northern Ireland is encouraging people to be on the lookout for scammers who want to take advantage of those who may be looking for friendship, companionship or love online.
The warning comes as Valentine’s Day approaches, when it is anticipated that more people will be using dating websites and apps in their search to find their someone special.
Chair of the ScamwiseNI Partnership, Superintendent Gerard Pollock said: “Unfortunately, in 2021, 80 incidents of romance scams were reported to police and one female from the Greater Belfast area was deceived out of over £130,000 in April 2021.
“This is a heart-breaking statistic, but it is also a personal story of a female who has had their life ruined by someone they grew to trust and build a relationship with. That’s why we know this crime is unreported, with victims sometimes too embarrassed to report it to police.
“Fraudsters will seek to build a relationship quickly and try to get you to chat or text away from the dating site or app you first met them on. This allows them to keep in contact if their profile is deleted for being fake.
“They appear very interested in you, very quickly, but will have lots of excuses for not being able to meet in person, a family emergency or a work problem that’s just come up.
“Soon they will ask you for money to help them sort out their problems or to help them come meet you, perhaps to pay for travel, all the while assuring you it will be paid back to you. You will continually be reassured it’s just this one thing, just this amount and then they’ll be able to come meet you.
“However, they have no intention of doing so because they do not exist. All they wanted was your money and to get as much of it as possible.
“There are ways to protect yourself from a romance scam. Follow these simple tips:
Stay on the app - Always keep communication on the dating website or app you’re using. Many have inbuilt security and assistance. They also take steps to remove and ban fake accounts so you’re safer there.
Check their socials - Carry out your own research on the person, checking their social media presence to see if it matches what’s on the dating site. Looking at key details such as name, location and family members can help identify inconsistencies in what you have been told.
Check their photo - Profile pictures can be deceiving and be taken from anywhere on the internet. You can use various websites to check photos using a reverse image search to prove if the photo is valid.
Never ever send money to someone you haven’t met in person – If you’re looking for friendship, companionship or love online it should never start with being asked for money, and if it does it’s not a friends or relationship worth having.
“Romance scammers don’t care about your gender, sexuality, age or race. They target everyone, please don’t let it be you.
“Always remember to stay on site, using reputable dating ones. Never send money to someone you have not met or receive/transfer money on their behalf. Be alert, keep yourself safe.”