A new scam reporting website in Northern Ireland has been visited 10,000 times in its first six weeks.
Police commanders believe the huge surge of traffic on the page hosted by NI Direct indicates the level of concern about the increasing number of ways criminals are trying to dupe the public.
They revealed the spike as they intensified their focus on one of the most difficult rackets to investigate – romance scams.
The Scamwise NI site was launched in November and provides information on how to spot and report scams, as well as identifying the latest rackets to trick people to part with their money.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said: “We have had over 10,000 hits on the website, which for NI Direct is very high.
“The Scamwise part of the website has received considerable traffic in just over a month and half.”
The PSNI work with the UK lead agencies on scams – Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau – to investigate the crimes.
Mr Walls pointed to three scam emails in this own inbox to highlight the extent of the problem.
“God knows where they are from,” he said. “I would be pretty certain they haven’t come from Northern Ireland, they probably haven’t come from the United Kingdom or from Ireland – they have come from somewhere out there.
“The internet provides scammers with an opportunity that maybe 10 years ago they didn’t have and that creates a difficulty for us when people do fall victim to online scams, trying to work out where the money has gone and where the scam has come from.”
He added: “Scams will continue to morph. Once people become aware of a scam then the scammers will try to alter the scams.”
Around Valentine’s Day next year, the PSNI will launch a new awareness campaign to highlight the risks presented by online relationships.
Mr Walls said people in Northern Ireland continued to fall victim to romance scammers, but warned that the scale of the problem was much bigger than the number of incidents reported to police.
“It’s very difficult to give figures about the number of people who have been scammed because lots of people don’t come forward, because it is a bit embarrassing,” he said.
“If you are a professional person who loses several thousand pounds buying something that doesn’t exist that’s embarrassing, so people don’t come forward.
“We think with romance scams that embarrassment becomes all the greater because as well as losing money you thought you had a relationship with somebody, and actually you don’t.”
He added: “A red flag in an online relationship is when people start asking for money – start to worry at that point.
“When money is requested that is the point you have to just stop and say ‘does this feel right?’”
For more information visit: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/scamwiseni