Dating and romance scams are running slightly ahead of travel scams in milking money from unwary people online – and the week with Valentine’s Day in it is the big period when they target people aged over 45.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is warning people that social media is now the most common method scammers use to contact potential victims.
In 2016, 4100 Australians contacted the ACCC’s Scamwatch service to report dating and romance scams. They lost a total of more than AUD 25 million – the largest amount of money lost to any type of scam. Stats also show Facebook is a popular contact method used by romance scammers, and that those aged 45 and over are most likely to be affected.
“Reports of dating and romance scams increased by more than a third in 2016 and, sadly, the amount of money reported lost has also increased by about AUD 3 million compared to 2015,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
St Valentine’s Day
“Romance scammers are getting increasingly manipulative so if you are going online this Valentine’s Day to look for love, it’s absolutely vital that you’re able recognise the warning signs. This is particularly the case when using dating websites or apps or if you’re contacted by someone you don’t know through social media.”
While scammers sometimes choose Valentine’s Day to make the initial contact, it’s the follow-up that’s lucrative for them.
“Scammers create very believable profiles, including stealing the identities of real, trusted people such as military personnel, aid workers or professionals working abroad. If you meet someone who seems too good to be true, do some research to see if they’re the real deal,” Rickard said.
“Look for inconsistencies in their stories. For example, do they say they are university educated but have poor English and grammar? Is their profile picture legitimate or stolen? These are red flags that you’re likely dealing with a scammer.”
“Perhaps the biggest warning sign is when a scammer asks you for money. After gaining your trust – often waiting weeks, months or even years – they tell you an elaborate story involving some crisis, or plan to travel to see you and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details.”
“This is a scammer’s end-game: to abuse your trust so they can steal your money. Don’t fall for their con – look after yourself when online and don’t be afraid to cut off contact if something doesn’t feel right to you,” Rickard said.
Some ACCC tips for anyone affected:
- Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided as scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online.
- Be very wary if you are moved off a dating website as scammers prefer to correspond through private emails or the phone to avoid detection.
- Don’t share intimate photos or use webcams in an intimate setting. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using such photos or webcam recordings to blackmail victims.
Edited by Peter Needham