Guyanese women being targeted in ‘romance scams’

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Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Mr. Matthew Langevine says the entity has received over 75 reports of “romance scams” where women were cheated out of millions of dollars through social media and dating sites.

Speaking with DPI on Thursday, the FIU Head cautioned Guyanese women to be wary of falling prey to fraud. He said women have become the main targets of the scams, which have increased since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

“There was a very interesting one that happened recently. A young lady met a gentleman online, and after a few weeks, he offered to send a package to her. She was contacted, and was advised by a local representative that the package had arrived,” Mr. Langevine said.

He said the woman was instructed to pay some “duties” to a local bank account. She was reportedly contacted another time and was told that the value of the package was high and she needed make a second payment in excess of US$400.

The FIU Director said the woman was told that because customs had checked the package and found US$35,000 cash, she had to make another payment. He said she was warned that if she refused, she would be charged.  The woman reportedly managed to gather US$7,500 and made the payment.

“So, they give you all kinds of reasons why you need to make these payments, and some persons, out of fear or out of the desire to benefit from these promises, would go all out to make these payments and eventually, until the end, they will realise that they’re scammed.

What happens in the end is that once these payments are made, you lose contact with the individual. The number that you would have been making contact with them on, it’s suddenly disconnected. You’re unable to make contact and your losses become evident,” he explained.

Asked whether lost funds were recovered, Mr. Langevine said there are no such cases. He said it is unfortunate since the country is also struggling with the pandemic, which has lessened persons income.

The FIU issued the warning today after recording a sustained uptick in cases of persons tricked into giving away millions of dollars through banks and other financial institutions.

Mr. Langevine said the COVID-19 pandemic has seen more persons staying at home for longer periods. This has led to more virtual relationships with fraudsters taking advantage of the victim’s trust.

The FIU has concluded that typical romance scams are operated by local and foreign collaborators. To this end, the unit has been collaborating with similar agencies across the Region to address the issue. Mr. Langevine said banks and money transfer agencies are also key collaborators in the fight against these types of financial crimes. The Unit is working with them to ensure the staff can detect and prevent financial scams.

It is also collaborating with the Special Organised Crime Unit to ensure cases are properly investigated.

The FIU has published a typology on its website fiu.gov.gy where persons can acquaint themselves with characteristics of financial scams and how they can be avoided.

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