The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) is warning members of the public of online romance and friendship scams, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a media briefing on Friday, Inspector at the Fraud Squad Cornelius Samuel explained that it involves the exploitation of people who are seeking a romantic partner or companion online.
“We at the Fraud Squad want to take the opportunity to re-sensitise the public to the risk of online scams particularly, a category of online scams called romance or friendship scams. This is a type of fraud that involves the exploitation of persons who are seeking a romantic partner or a companion through the use of online dating websites on application or social media in general. The fraudsters that are involved in this type of fraud are experts at identifying and playing with emotional triggers with the end goal of getting you to part with your hard earned money.”
Samuel noted that victims are befriended by scammers and then convinced to transfer money to a bank account.
The inspector said the fraudsters would sometimes use fake online profiles, portraying themselves as persons involved in a respectable field, for example, a doctor as part of an international organisation or even someone involved in the military in some part of the world.
He said they work to gain the confidence and trust of victims over several weeks or even several months.
“Once that confidence and trust is gained, then the sympathetic stories come, for example a sudden medical situation involving themselves or perhaps a family member, that they cannot afford. More typically, where they have sent a care package of gifts for you, but they cannot afford the customs fees to clear it. By that time the victim would he emotionally invested and be willing to pay and before you know it that victim is instructed to make deposits to a bank account or sometimes bank accounts. By the time the victim realises he may have been scammed, the scammer has disappeared with your money, not if all of your money. They steal your heart, to steal your money,” he said.
Samuel said this type of fraud is not new.
Recently, a Nigerian man was charged for defrauding an 82-year-old, after she was contacted by someone pretending to be her long-lost godson from the United Kingdom.
Inspector Samuel is also urging members of the public to look out for red flags when interacting with people online.
He said if a person is engaging in an online relationship with someone and the new online partner begins to ask personal questions too early, this an indicator that something is wrong.
If a person avoids answering personal questions, that is also a reg flag, he noted.
Samuel also urged individuals to exercise discretion in the details they share online.
He noted that in order to gain a person’s confidence and trust, may fraudsters send photos purporting to be them.
The inspector said victims can do a reverse image search on google.
“If you reach the stage where you asked by your online partner and you are inclined to pay money, pause and see if you can get in contact with a trusted friend,” he advised.