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Romance fraud victims scammed out of €18,000 on average in 2020

FraudSMART warns public of increase in romance scams due to COVID-19

12th February 2021 – FraudSMART, the fraud awareness initiative led by Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), has today revealed that victims of romance fraud were conned out of an average sum of €18,000 by fraudsters in 2020. The figure comes as FraudSMART has issued a warning to the public that romance scams are on the rise due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Outlining the trends that have been evident over the last year, Niamh Davenport, Head of Digital & Fraud Prevention, BPFI said: “The onset of COVID-19 has seen many elements of our lives, including socialising, move online. With an increase in online dating fraudsters are not only taking advantage of the rising number of people online, but they are also preying on people’s loneliness, isolation and vulnerability as a result of the restrictions and lockdowns we are experiencing. Of those cases identified among our members in 2020, victims of so-called romance scams were scammed out of an average of €18,000 and in some cases this rose as high as €50,000. This is a very significant sum of money and underlines the serious nature of these scams and the need for people to extra vigilant to them.”

Ms Davenport continued: “By using online dating sites or apps the fraudsters objective is to gain trust and build up a relationship and emotional connection with their victim. They will often devote months to this process, after which time they will create a sense of urgency in order to ask their victim for money or indeed in many cases have the victim offer them money. It can be a devastating experience for people who get caught up in these types of scams and often times they are too embarrassed to report the crime. While knowing how to protect yourself from these type of scams is critically important, is it just important to dispel any shame victims of such scams may feel.  If you think you have fallen victim to such a crime contact your bank and An Garda Siochana immediately, the quicker you act the better your chance of recouping any lost funds.”

FraudSMART advice on how to protect yourself from romance scams

  • 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.
  • Use a reputable dating site and use their messaging service. Do not move to social media or texting too quickly.
  • 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 purchase flights, or VISAs or pay customs fees for them to visit you.
  • Remember individuals can pretend to be anyone they want to be online. You should 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 licenses.
  • If you think you have fallen victim contact your bank immediately, the quicker you act the better chance of recouping any lost funds.

Romance Scam Case Study

The following story was provided by a recent victim of a romance scam who shared their story with FraudSMART. Names have been changed.

George in communication via a dating app with Sarah who lived in the United States. After several months of chatting, Sarah told George she going to retire to Ireland and wanted to use his retirement fund to buy a property so that they could live together. Sarah even called when she got to the airport as per her flight schedule.

Later that day, John received a call to say that Sarah’s belongings were in customs, that the custom fee needed to be paid but that the officials could not get in touch with Sarah as she was on the flight. The customs fee needed to be paid urgently or the items would be returned to the US.

George was advised that the funds should be transferred and was given a bank account into which they should be transfer. John did not realise this was a scam and that the bank account was in the Philippines. He went on to transfer €6,750.

On finding out that he was victim of fraud, George felt very embarrassed. He did not want to tell his friends or family and felt even more isolated than he had prior to meeting his partner online. He also felt a huge sense of loss as he had invested much more than money in the relationship – time, emotion as well as what he thought was real personal connection.

Further information on romance scams and other fraud types can be found on the FraudSMART website

Contact: Jillian Heffernan, Head of Communications, 087 9016880

About FraudSMART: FraudSMART is a fraud awareness initiative developed by Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) in conjunction with the following member banks, Allied Irish Bank plc, Bank of Ireland, KBC Bank Ireland, PermanentTSB, Ulster Bank, An Post Money and Barclays. The programme aims to raise consumer and business awareness of the latest financial fraud activity and trends and provide simple and impartial advice on how best they can protect themselves and their resources.

About BPFI: Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) represents the banking, payments and fintech sector in Ireland.  Together with its affiliates, the Federation of International Banks in Ireland, and the Fintech & Payments Association of Ireland, BPFI has 100 member institutions and associates, including licensed domestic and foreign banks and institutions operating in the financial marketplace here.