TTPS: Online romance and friendship scam pervasive, female retiree recently affected

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    Police are warning about a pervasive romance and friendship online scam that almost cost an 82-year-old woman thousands of dollars.

    While this is not a new form of fraud, the TTPS has chosen to re-sensitize the public, given what it sees as an increased use of social media during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Acting Inspector Cornelius Samuel of the Fraud Squad says persons who are experts at playing with emotions, pretend to be respectable individuals looking for love or friendship online.

    “What they do is they patiently work to gain your confidence and trust, sometimes over several weeks or several months, but 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 or, 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 be emotionally invested and may be willing to pay.”

    In the recent case, a 48-year-old Nigeria national was arrested as he attempted to withdraw $50,000 from a bank account in Port of Spain.

    “The subsequent inquiries by the detectives revealed that an 82-year-old female retiree living in the Port of Spain area was tricked, in the circumstances I described before, into depositing a total of $262,000 into various accounts including the account the Nigerian national was trying to access. That individual has since been charged by officers of the Fraud Squad for multiple counts of larceny trick as well as multiple counts of money laundering under the Proceeds of Crime Act.”

    The arrest has provided a small breakthrough for detectives as they now have critical information that will help in future investigations.

    Persons are urged to be wary of any friends or partners they meet online and follow these safety tips:

    • Be wary of lots of personal questions being asked early on
    • Be careful when sending photos online or using live video
    • If you partner avoids answering personal questions or gives answers that do not add up, this is a red flag
    • Fraudsters may tend to show intense emotion or a personal bond rather quickly in the relationship
    • Sometimes, fraudsters sent photos purporting to be them
    • Persons are urged to use Google’s reverse image search feature to find the original source of a photo. Sometimes fraudsters use stock photos
    • If you are inclined to pay money to someone asking online, refer the situation to a friend or a trusted source for third-party advice