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Gardaí say fraudsters changing modus operandi as they target victims, often older women, on dating apps or via social media 
Romance-based frauds targeting Irish victims are growing increasingly complex with scammers using a significant degree of financial and social class profiling to identify victims. In some cases fraudsters are enticing their victims into bogus investments to increase how much they can yield. 
Many of these are based around investing in cryptocurrency, with the fraudsters keeping the money but claiming it had been lost in a bad investment. This is known internationally as “pig butchering”. The victim – or “pig” – is effectively primed over a long period of time with the promise of a foolproof high yield investment. When they are ready to invest a large sum – or have been “fattened” – the fraudster “butchers” them by stealing their money. 
The Irish Times has established 74 people in the Republic last year and 87 in 2021 – many of them women aged 50 years or older – reported they had been defrauded, usually by people they had met on dating apps or elsewhere online. Detectives investigating the crimes believe the true volume of romance fraud in the Republic is much higher. 
They believe many victims do not want to come forward and make criminal complaints because they are embarrassed at being fooled while others are married or in long-term relationships and did not want their partners to know they had been using dating apps. Gardaí are concerned the increased publicity around romance frauds in recent years does not seem to have made people more suspecting when they are asked for money by people they are involved with online. 
While the number of victims last year slightly decreased, the amount of money stolen increased by almost a quarter, to €1.9 million. While that averages at just over €25,000 per victim, some people lost €100,000 to fraudsters last year before realising they were being duped. 
Det Supt Michael Cryan of the National Economic Crime Bureau said people should never share personal details online and should never give money to someone they have met on a dating app but have never met in person. He added people using dating apps should also never receive money into their bank accounts on someone else’s behalf as their account was likely being used to launder money. 
He said the fraudsters, posing as men or women on dating apps and elsewhere online, often sought money claiming they needed it to travel to Ireland to meet the victim. In other cases they claimed they needed to pay emergency medial expenses and other bills or even for investment in a business opportunity. 
As part of the same Garda appeal aimed at combating romance fraud, to coincide with St Valentine’s Day, the Garda said 70 per cent of victims were women. One woman in the Republic gave €100,000 to a man she met on a dating app after he claimed to be working abroad and needed the cash. 
Another women gave €27,000 to a man she met on social media because she believed he would use it to relocate to Ireland to pursue a relationship with her. Another woman gave €4,500 to a man she met online because she believed he was in Yemen and wanted to come to Ireland to be with her. A male victim was befriended online by a person who claimed to be female and he gave her €20,000 for an cryptocurrency investment. 
Garda sources said the fraudsters had changed their modus operandi. They now try to move their intended victims off the messaging function on dating apps and on to WhatsApp or email for fear of being detected by security features on the dating apps. 
Fraudsters have also begun delving deeply into the personal circumstances of the people they are targeting on dating apps or social media with a view to establishing a picture of their financial, career and social background. Gardaí said they typically ask a series of personal questions very quickly to be sure they are not wasting their time on people of limited means. 
“They want to know what car people drive, where they’ve been on holidays, what part of Dublin they live in, things like that,” said one source. “They may spend six to nine months working on a victim so they don’t want to waste that time.” 
The profiling of victims also extended to checks on social media platforms, including LinkedIn to determine their intended victim’s professional background and career history. Other tactics being used included the fraudsters quickly starting to use pet names like “baby” or “darling” for the people they meet online. 
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