A woman from Northern Ireland has been swindled out of more than £300,000 in an online romance scam.
The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, was conned out of the money after being befriended by a man on Facebook three years ago.
As their relationship developed he persuaded her to pay him large sums of money, claiming they were for his children's education and business investments.
Police say they are investigating the scam, and a report of another separate case in which "a similar amount of money" was lost by the victim.
Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said: "Sadly, this report where a life changing amount of money has been lost is a stark example of how scammers don't care about the long lasting impact their devious and despicable actions have on their victims."
"In this scam the fraudulent activity started after the woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, was befriended by a man on Facebook three years ago and a relationship developed. After three months the scammer asked the woman to pay money so his children could be educated in England. She was then asked for money in relation to investing in both Ghana and Dubai. The woman believed the man’s stories and, over the course of three years, she sent a total of £300,000 to different accounts at his request.
"Enquiries are ongoing into this fraud which has, understandably, had a devastating impact on the victim.
“We receive reports of fraud on a regular basis and, no matter how big or small the amount of money is that a victim loses, every loss is felt by those targeted. However, this is one of the bigger scams where a victim has been swindled out of such a significant amount of money. Sadly we received another report recently where a similar amount of money was lost in a scam."
Chief Superintendent Walls continued: “There are many types of scams; and this report is just one example of those operating. We believe romance scams are significantly under reported. We think many people are simply too embarrassed to tell us they have been scammed in a romance fraud, but I urge anyone who has been a victim to report it to us.
“No matter what type of scam it is, and the different methods employed, the one common element is that scammers will go to great lengths to trick people and take advantage of their vulnerability and good faith.
"Romance scammers don’t prey on a specific gender, sexuality, race or age. They target everyone; just don’t let it be you. Don’t let yourself become a statistic. Protect yourself if you want to use the internet in search of love or companionship. Start off with a reputable website. Look out for someone asking lots of questions, but not giving any detail about themselves. Don’t ever hand over any money. Never let anyone you don’t know or trust transfer money into your bank account.”
Appealing to the public to be on their guard and not to let themselves become a statistic, he added: "There is no end to the methods fraudsters will use to dupe people into giving them money. Tricksters know all the scams and will often communicate with victims in a convincing manner. Guarding your personal and banking details is essential. Never ever disclose them to any unauthorised person or allow anyone access to them via your computer.
“If you have received a call of this kind or if you’re concerned by unsolicited calls, emails or letters then please report it to Action Fraud via their website www.actionfraud.police.uk or by phoning 0300 123 2040, or call police on the non-emergency number 101.
“Further advice and information can also be obtained by visiting www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page @scamwiseni."