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Gardaí investigating 'romance cryptocurrency scam' where woman lost over €10,000

The fraudster built up the woman’s trust over a number of weeks.

File image.
File image.
Image: Shutterstock

A WOMAN IN Ireland who fell victim to a ‘romance scam’ after meeting a man on Tinder said she wants to highlight her experience to help prevent others from being conned in a similar manner. 

A number of months ago the woman – she asked us not to use her real name, so we’ll refer to her as Fiona – was using the dating app when she matched with a man and starting chatting to him.

“He was a good looking guy, he had a decent profile with a description about himself and we connected and started talking,” Fiona, who is in her 30s, told The Journal.

“It moved quickly enough to WhatsApp but that didn’t raise any red flags for me because people usually move to WhatsApp if the conversation is going well.”

She said at the time she matched with this man the app showed his location as being within 1km of where she was living in Dublin and he spoke with familiarity about the area.

His profile had stated he worked between London, Paris and Dublin. He explained to her that as he was often travelling for work he could not meet in person.

“He was nice, we were getting to know each other, asking each other questions and being totally normal, talking about work and our interests and life in general.”

Looking back, Fiona said, he was “quite keen” – but she said there was no reason to suspect any sinister reason for this.

“He spoke a little bit about his work, he didn’t go into a lot of detail, but as time went on he started to bring into conversation that he trades cryptocurrencies.

“He said he did it with friends and one time he said his friends were coming over to his place for dinner and they were going to trade together.”

For weeks, she said, there were subtle mentions of this trading activity. At that stage he was not asking her to get involved.

“It was more planting seeds,” she said.

“It wasn’t until weeks into the conversation that he was saying ‘you should join and try it, I can teach you’.”

The man Fiona was speaking to sent her a download link for an app, which she discovered much later was a copy of a legitimate website.

Thinking back, she said, that should have been the first red flag.

“Obviously you should never download something like that someone sends you.”

If I had gone onto my desktop and entered the details at the time it would have flagged that it wasn’t the real site, but I clicked straight through.
That was total negligence on my part, but it looked identical and investing isn’t something I did myself, I didn’t know about it. I thought it was something that would be nice to know more about.

She explained how the sophisticated scam is set up in a way that convinces victims they are investing in something legitimate and that they can get their money back at any time.

“So at first you invest a small amount of money and he shows you how.”

“At that stage you can actually withdraw funds from it so you believe it’s real and it didn’t cause me any concern. Obviously there is someone behind that trading scheme releasing the money, knowing it will build trust.

Then you see after you send money that you’re making this much money, you’re doing well with this thing. I probably should have tried to take it out again, but as I was making money I just left it there. We were doing it quite often – every day, sometimes a couple of times a day.

Fiona said the man she was in contact with was not putting pressure on her and she felt like she was a willing participant in the investments. 

‘Something was really wrong’

The situation escalated when the fake trading platform announced an ‘anniversary bonus’ that users could sign up to to increase their funds.

The man Fiona was talking to said he would send money to her account so she could get this ‘bonus’ and once the transaction was finished she could just pay him back.

She signed up, but he never sent her the funds and she began to receive alerts from the website telling her if she did not pay the funds by a certain date her account would be drained by 5% each day.

“That’s when I started to realise,” she said.

No website would do that – they would maybe freeze your funds or make you pay a once-off penalty for something but not drain your account. I was under a huge amount of pressure, so that’s when I thought something was going on, that something was really wrong.

At this stage Fiona had invested upwards of €10,000. 

She confided in friends, who advised her to try to get the man she had been talking to to chat to her on a video call.

He declined, giving an excuse about a previous ex-girlfriend that tried to blackmail him about sending videos to his family. He also claimed he had tried to send her funds, but failed to send a screenshot of his attempt when she asked.

Fiona said the conversation became “intense” and that evening she started to look for more information online about the man, but could find nothing on social media or elsewhere.

“I did some research about the [investment] website and there were pages flagging it as not real and potentially harmful.

“Before this I was still in denial because he had invested such a long time in the conversation, it never entered my head it could be a scam. It was a relationship in a way – I know I never met him and I don’t think I was in love with him – but part of you feels you’re in a relationship.”

The following day she went to report the incident to gardaí.

“You feel like it’s all been a lie and it’s pretty devastating,” she said.

If there was no money involved you could just move on, but you’ve given your savings and you’re just really disappointed in yourself and the choices you’ve made. You feel a lack of trust in your own ability to make decisions. I wouldn’t say I’m a stupid person, it’s embarrassing.

Fiona has told her family about what happened and her closest friends, who she said have all been supportive.

‘Protect yourself’

Gardaí confirmed to The Journal that they are investigating the incident.

They have previously warned of so-called romance scams in which fraudsters slowly gain their victims’ trust.

In one incident previously highlighted by gardaí an Irish woman was showered with expensive gifts, including scarves and perfumes, before she was asked to invest in her suitor’s business.

Over a thirteen month period, the woman gave the fraudster €48,000. The woman initially delayed reporting the fraud to gardaí as she was married.

The scam that targeted Fiona is a common international fraud method, with new victims every day. Just last month a popular Canadian fashion blogger shared her experience, which was similar to Fiona’s in a number of ways. (You can watch her video below).  

Source: inspiroue/YouTube

Gardaí have said it’s not known how widespread this particular scam is because many victims are too embarrassed to report it.

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Fiona said this is why she was motivated to to share her story. 

“I want to raise awareness of it, I don’t think it’s going to go away, it’s only going to get worse.”

Looking back at the situation, she said there were a number of things she could have picked up on. 

“There were minor things that didn’t add up and I had put it down to bad English,” she said. The man had sent her voices messages at the beginning of their interaction, and Fiona said English was not his first language.

“Something to look out for is that their English is excellent when speaking about trading, but not as good when they’re talking about other things, so pay attention to that. 

She added: 

Check the people you’re talking to on social media, or do a Facetime call with them, find a way to protect yourself. At the end of the day don’t give money to anyone under any circumstances.

Gardaí also provided a number of tips to avoid falling victim to this kind of fraud, including:

  • People should be careful about how much detail they share on social media;
  • Watch out for snippets of conversation that are out of sync with previous chats as fraudsters use scripts;
  • Never send money to someone you have never met, or invest in ‘opportunities’ without seeking financial advice. 

“If you think you have fallen victim, contact your bank immediately. The quicker you act the better chance of recouping any lost funds,” An Garda Síochána said.

“Don’t be embarrassed about reporting it to gardaí. You are not alone. These are professional fraudsters who use social engineering and financial grooming tactics.”

In a statement to The Journal, Tinder said the safety of members has always been a priority.

“Match Group, which Tinder is part of, has committed more than $100 million on product, technology and moderation efforts related to trust and safety in 2021 alone,” the company said. 

“This strong and important investment allows us to launch leading partnerships and new breakthrough technologies/products to keep protecting our members across the world. 

“We understand that our work is never done.

“Catfishing is a violation of our Community Guidelines and Terms of Use, and members who are discovered catfishing are removed from our platform.”

Tinder said anyone who believes they are being impersonated on the platform should contact the support team with relevant details and any matching profile will be removed. 

“Additionally, we encourage our members to look for the ‘blue tick’, which indicates that the member’s profile image is genuine and has been verified  by Tinder, through our Photo Verification programme.”

Tinder recently announced it will make ID verification available to members around the world in the coming quarters. 

“Tinder will take into consideration expert recommendations, input from our members, local laws and regulations, as it determines how the feature will roll out in each country,” the company said. “This is a first for the industry.”

 

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