Police are probing a series of scams in which fraudsters are using the names of popular Finnish recording artists to fleece unsuspecting members of the public.
Police said that so far, the con artists have used the names and images of singer-songwriter Juha Tapio and vocalist Kaija Koo to create fake social media profiles to approach fans for money.
The performing artists themselves are not suspected of any wrongdoing and were not aware that fraud was being conducted in their names.
Artist "needed money for a divorce"
In one case, a woman from southern Finland reported receiving a message, allegedly from Juha Tapio. In fact, the note came from a fake profile. The message contained news that the fan was not to disclose to anyone else.
"It said that the artist was getting a divorce and needed money for the divorce proceedings," lead investigator Hannu Kortelainen told Yle.
"It also mentioned that the news was not to be shared with others. The victim was asked for 10,000 euros," he added.
The message melted the fan’s heart and she went to her bank to transfer 10,000 euros to the account mentioned in the message. When the victim informed the bank of the intended recipient of the funds, the official noted that the money would have ended up in an account that was not Juha Tapio’s.
The woman then filed a criminal report about the matter to police.
"Fortunately the bank was alert. The transfer was aborted there and then," Kortelainen said.
Police said that the woman had previously commented on the authentic Juha Tapio website. They speculated that this information was used to send the petition for money to the right target. Juha Tapio’s record label said that the artist preferred not to comment on an ongoing investigation.
Man scammed by Kaija Koo profile
Police are also probing another case involving a fake profile allegedly belonging to songstress Kaija Koo.
"The victim was also sending money in that case, but the bank put a stop to it," Kortelainen explained.
Police described the fake artist scam as a new phenomenon in Finland, however they said that online romance swindles are nothing new, and more cases are being reported.
According to police, the victims of so-called online "love letter" are often women and are approached via fake social media profiles.
The con usually begins with the creation of a close relationship with the victim. Victim and fraudster often plan a shared future and even marriage at some point.
The man usually says that he is very wealthy. He praises the woman and sends photos of diamonds, country estates and bank statements showing a balance of millions.
Once a bond of trust has been established the couple plan to meet. The man says he will come to Finland for the first encounter, but then something unexpected happens.
"There’s usually a sudden tragic event. The man himself or someone in his close circle falls ill or is involved in an accident," Kortelainen explained.
At this stage the man asks for money, which many victims then send.
"The extorted sums have on average been tens of thousands of euros. The biggest sum under investigation has been roughly 300,000 euros," Kortelainen noted.
Victims develop "self-destructive" thoughts
Police have speculated that the majority of online romance swindles originate from abroad. However in recent times, Finns have participated in the fraud, mainly as money launderers.
The ill-gotten funds are moved through several bank accounts in different countries, making it difficult to trace the perpetrators.
Kortelainen said that police investigate a few dozen such swindles every year. While the number may not be large, the same cannot be said for the victims’ suffering, he added.
"It’s a double blow – to lose your money and your trust in people. The victim had been building a relationship and planning a shared life. You are already in deep when the fraud is uncovered. Some victims have had self-destructive thoughts," the investigator commented.
True love or a hustle?
In spite of the danger of falling into the clutches of a con artist, many people have found true love on online dating sites.
According to Kortelainen, there is at least one red flag to watch for.
"Money and love should never mix. If in the early stages of a relationship someone asks if your finances are solid, that’s a signal that this is not about genuine emotions," Kortelainen warned.
As part of his work investigating online love fraud, Kortelainen said that he has referred many victims to Victim Support Finland, which offers counselling and other services for crime victims.
The police officer said he has often pondered the nature of love.
"When hormones and the brain’s neurotransmitters are in turmoil, people can be quite vulnerable. A person in love is not capable of making rational decisions," he declared.