Finland money

Romance scams spread in Finland | New

In the first half of this year, Finns lost some €3.8 million to online romance scams. The typical victim is in a vulnerable position, generous and ready to help others.

A scammer can stay in touch with a victim by patiently and skillfully building a relationship through messages for months, sometimes even years. Image: Arash Matin / Yle

There has been a surge in romance scams in Finland in recent years, usually run by professional criminals who have set up large organizations for their operations. They know how to take advantage of the vulnerability and the feeling of loneliness of their victims, according to the authorities.

Detective Inspector Gunnar Golnick from the Häme Police Department says that in the majority of cases, the victim is driven to become infatuated or even fall in love with the scammer. Once hooked, victims can believe the most incredible stories. Ultimately, it’s about sending money to solve an acute invented problem.

The victims are usually people of a helpful and unsuspecting nature, who are overwhelmed by strong emotions.

Between January and June 2022, Finns lost 10.8 million euros to fraudsters. Of that number, 3.8 million ended up in document and romance scams. According to the Finnish financial industry group Finance Finland (FFI), in terms of losses, this is the most common type of online fraud.

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Espoo’s Henry Johansson watched his elderly mother’s finances collapse due to a romance scam. She lost her money and had to restructure her debts. Image: Tiina Jutila/Yle

Financial disaster

Henry JohanssonSuspicion was aroused last spring when her elderly mother told her about her new online acquaintance. What she told him had all the hallmarks of a scam – supposedly the man was in the military and he was going overseas on a secret mission.

Johansson’s mother had not met the man or spoken to him on the phone. The contact was made only by SMS via WhatsApp.

After reading the messages, Johansson realized that this was a classic case of fraud.

“The man wrote in clumsy Finnish, which was clearly from Google Translate. I told mum he was a scammer,” he said.

His mother categorically denied sending the man any money. Johansson stressed to him that no money should be sent and so be it.

The hard truth came out a few months later. Johansson’s mother had lost her life savings and had also gone into debt to help the scammer. She is now financially destitute and has filed a criminal complaint.

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Police: Many actors

Detective Inspector Jani Ortamala of the Central Finland Police Department has confirmed that its department is investigating a romance scam, seeking to bring charges, including aggravated fraud. The victim was tricked into paying more than 100,000 euros into several accounts.

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In romance scams, messages are mostly exchanged via computer and smartphone. The scammer rarely agrees to talk on the phone or meet his victim. Image: Eleni Paspatis/Yle

In this case, the victim was first contacted via Facebook and convinced to send money through various tricks. The funds were paid into three different accounts, which are apparently at least partially held by bogus business entities.

Ortamala cannot yet confirm whether or not this case is part of a larger series of frauds, as similar scams are carried out by many actors.

Victims may unwittingly commit crimes

The same scammer can target two or three victims at the same time.

“Money is first transferred between victims’ accounts before it goes overseas from someone’s account,” Golnick explained.

According to Golnick, the owners of the accounts where the scammers temporarily deposit funds are known as “money mules”. Even if account holders believe the scammer’s stories and act in good faith, some of them commit money laundering offenses when funds flow through their accounts.

Intervening can be difficult if you suspect a loved one is the target of a romance scam, notes Golnick.

“Almost the only way is to try to make the victim understand that this is a scam and not real love,” he says.

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Detective Inspector Gunnar Golnick says that if and when the money requested by the scammers is transferred overseas, it is nearly impossible to track and recover. Image: Mika Moksu/Yle

Gone without a trace

A fabulous new online love interest may seem too good to be true. If so, it’s probably a scammer, Golnick said.

Most of the time, any money sent to scammers is lost forever.

Golnick pointed out that once it is transferred overseas, all traces of the money are gone and the actual perpetrators get away with their crime. At best, an intermediary can be taken.

Despite all the warnings, romance scams have become part of everyday police work.

“Most recently, yesterday morning, a criminal complaint was filed by someone who got scammed out of money with empty promises,” Golnick said.