Dating and romance scams - don't let them break your heart or wallet
Dating and romance scams are very destructive – both financially and emotionally. In 2013, more money was lost to dating and romance scams than any other type of scam, with over $25 million reported lost in Australia - $7.4 Million from NSW alone.
Unfortunately, the scammers have a high rate of success, with 43 per cent of people who reported an approach by an ‘admirer’ losing money – on average over $21,000! These scams also cause significant emotional harm, with many victims reporting a break down in relationships with friends and family.
With the proliferation of online dating websites, forums and social media channels, these scams are moving increasingly into the online space. Online communication channels allow scammers to operate anonymously from anywhere in the world.
Source: Targeting scams: Report of the ACCC on scams activity 2013 - Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
How these scams work
Scammers exploit their victim’s emotions in order to take their money. They can be very elaborate hoaxes, sometimes taking years to develop and run by experienced criminal syndicates.
The scammer develops a strong connection with the victim before asking for money to help cover costs associated with a supposed illness, injury, family crisis, travel costs or to pursue a business or investment opportunity.
Scammers often approach their victims on legitimate dating websites before attempting to move the ‘relationship’ away from the safeguards that these sites put in place; communicating through other methods such as email, where they can more easily manipulate victims.
Scammers also target victims through social networking sites, where they ‘like’ them and then express shared interests based on personal information taken from the victim’s profile.
How to stop this happening to you
Keep your personal details personal: Never share personal information or photos with someone you don’t know and trust – especially photos or webcam calls of a private nature. There have been reports of scammers using this material to blackmail victims.
Watch out: If an online admirer asks to communicate with you outside the dating website, such as through a private email address or over the phone, watch out – they could be trying to avoid detection. If you are considering meeting in person, choose a public place and let family or friends know where you are at all times.
Search: Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided. Scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online.
Think twice: Never send money to someone you’ve met online, especially via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer – it’s rare to recover money sent this way.
Report: If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
If the scam originates in NSW, you can report this to the NSW Police Force by visiting your local police station or calling the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.
You can report scams to the ACCC via the 'report a scam' page on SCAMwatch. If you met the scammer through a dating service or social media, you should also inform the dating service/social channel of your experience so that they can try and stop the scammer hurting others.
Where to find out more:
Scamwatch - www.scamwatch.gov.au
NSW Fair Trading - www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission - Targeting scams: Report of the ACCC on scams activity 2013 - Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) - http://www.accc.gov.au/publications/targeting-scams-report-on-scam-activity