The T&T Police Service (TTPS) is warning citizens searching for love online to be vigilant.
Speaking at a press conference at the Police Administration Building in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning, officers of the TTPS's Fraud Squad said that they have had to investigate a series of recent incidents involving romance or friendship scams.
"They steal your heart to steal your money," acting Inspector Cornelius Samuel said.
Samuel revealed that the most recent incident occurred several weeks ago when his department arrested a 48-year-old Nigerian man as he was in the process of defrauding an 82-year-old woman from Port-of-Spain of over $262,000.
"The arrest provides a small breakthrough as it provided critical information on other cases of a similar nature," Samuel said.
He explained that fraudsters, who commit such crimes, are experts at identifying and playing on emotional triggers to convince persons to part with their money.
He said most create fake profiles and pretend to have respectable jobs as doctors or military officers.
"Once that confidence and trust are gained then the sympathetic stories come. A sudden medical situation involving themselves or family members, which they cannot afford or typically they may claim they sent a care package of gifts for you but they cannot afford the customs fees to clear it," he said, as he gave a series of basic tips on identifying such fraudsters.
Samuel suggested that such fraudsters usually ask many personal questions early in the online friendship and advised citizens to consult with trusted friends or the police before agreeing to transfer any funds.
He also warned citizens against posting too much personal information on their social media accounts, which may cause them to fall under the fraudsters' radars.
Samuel also said that the TTPS had received reports of similar scams involving fraudsters conning citizens through telemarketing investment schemes.
During the press conference, ASP Curtis Julien, also of the Fraud Squad, noted that the TTPS had recorded an increase in credit and debit card fraud compared to last year.
Julien revealed that for the first quarter this year there were 758 reports of card skimming as compared to 459 for the corresponding period, last year.
However, despite the increase, the statistics showed that citizens were defrauded of less money with $1.74 million compared to $2.214 million, last year.
The statistics also showed that of the reported cases, the majority were made at the Fraud Squad's Port-of-Spain.
However, Julien explained that the disparity was possibly down to the fact that the Port-of-Spain office covers a large geographic area inclusive of Tobago.
Julien pointed at several electronic devices that were on display at the press conference to highlight how fraudster commit their crimes.
He said that skimming devices can be placed at ATMs machines and point of sale machines or they can be modified to facilitate skimming activity. The data is transferred to mobile devices via Bluetooth and is used to create cloned bank cards. The fraudulent cards are then used to withdraw money from the victims' bank accounts.
Julien said that the Fraud Squad's investigations revealed that many of the devices are manufactured in foreign countries, which shows that the fraudsters are linked to transnational crime.
He said that machines that are tampered with would usually tell a user that there was a communication error or transaction failure.
"What we need to understand is that we need to safeguard ourselves from this type of activity," as he called on citizens to not be distracted when conducting such transactions.
"It is important to keep your eyes on cards, and as long as there is any suspicious activity taking place, immediately raise a red flag and discontinue the transaction. Contact your financial institution and of course make self-checks using online banking," he said.
He also revealed that some skimming fraud may be performed unknowingly by staff at businesses as their owners may have have arrangements with fraudsters and secretly tampered with machines.