STA, 20 February 2019 - Slovenian bank NKBM has warned against suspicions transactions from Slovenia mostly to Turkey which it believes amount to a romance scam. Slovenian women transferred over 200,000 euros to persons they met online in 14 such transactions the bank detected in January and December alone.
The bulk of the money went to Istanbul but some transactions were also made to Cyprus, Spain, the US and Estonia, Laura Jekler, head of NKBM's anti-fraud department, told the press in Maribor on Wednesday.
The con-artists usually get in touch with the victims on Facebook or Messenger. The sums the women are asked to wire are low at first, 100-200 euros, but soon rise to as much as 10,000s euro.
Among the 14 transactions, more than 60,000 euros was transferred in a single case, the bank official explained.
Tadej Hren from SI-CERT, the national cybersecurity response centre, said the money most probably ends up at bank accounts of money mules, who then forward it.
"The trace of the money disappears very quickly," he said, adding the first such case in Slovenia was identified in 2013, but this practice gained ground last year.
While one to two cases had been discovered before 2018, there were as many as 40 reports of such fraud last year.
"The reported cases are probably just the tip of the iceberg because many people just don't not want to talk about it," Hren explained.
A major obstacle to investigating this illegal practice is that victims do not want to face the truth.
The crooks usually target middle-aged women who are often lonely, divorced or live on their own, promising them happiness, said Hren.
Some women have admitted the whole thing seemed suspicious but they did not want to stop it because they were happy, said Hren, adding "it hurt them more to be rejected than to lose the money".
NKBM employees have been instructed to be alert and always check the origin of the money if cash is used in suspicious bank transfers.
The bank has also launched a special website with information on how to identify such fraud and how to act, advising the victims to report it to the police.
Prosecuting such fraud is difficult though, especially since the suspects often come from countries with loose anti-money laundering legislation.