With Valentine's Day just around the corner, many Australians are turning to online platforms in search of love and companionship. However, amidst the excitement and anticipation of potential romance, there lies a lurking danger: romance scams.
The National Anti-Scam Centre has issued a warning to individuals navigating the digital dating landscape, cautioning them to remain vigilant against financial criminals who exploit emotions for monetary gain.
Some of the key statistics from 2023 as reported by Scamwatch:
- 484 reports or romance scams
- Over $40 million in losses
- People over 55 lost the most money (individually)
How romance scams work and what to look out for
Scammers can take different approaches when trying to prey on their victims, but there are some common behaviours to look out for:
- The victim and scammer meet on a dating app or dating website. Sometimes scammers will befriend the victim via social media platforms.
- Often, there will be ‘red flags’ on their social media profiles such as:
- Very few posts, with the oldest post being uploaded very recently.
- Little to no interaction with their posts i.e. minimal comments/likes/shares.
- The people they follow will often be of the same gender as the victim.
- After some initial conversation, the scammer may ask the victim to move the conversation to email, text messages or a free encrypted messaging platform, such as Google Hangouts, WeChat or WhatsApp.
- The scammer typically spends some time developing a close connection with the victim, by messaging them several times a day professing their feelings for them.
- The person is reluctant to video chat and makes excuses about why their webcam isn’t working.
- The scammer can’t meet in person, often working overseas for a government, army or an aid organisation, and there are inconsistencies with what they are saying. For example, they may give the impression that they are born in a predominately English speaking country, but then they have poor English in messages.
- The scammer may begin making various money related requests:
- The scammer may ask for money for medical, travel or business emergencies.
- They may ask to have money transferred to the victims account and then the victim transfers it on to them or another person.
- They may start to talk about making money through different investments, most commonly involving cryptocurrency.
- They may show the victim how to invest and will pressure them into transferring a small amount of money to see how easy it is.
- Initially it may appear to the victim that they are making a profit from their investment, so the scammer is able to convince them to keep investing/transferring more money.
- Victims will often be told they have to ‘top up’ their account to access their money or that they must always have a certain amount in their account otherwise it will be frozen, and their money will be lost.
- The scam ends when the victim has no more money to give or refuses to keep investing. At this point, the scammer will disappear and stop all contact with the victim or may demand that the victim invests more money to access the money already invested.
- The victim may be left with a significant financial loss while also losing the person who they thought they were developing a relationship with.
How to protect yourself
There are a few steps you can take to keep yourself safe when meeting someone new online:
- Remain sceptical and vigilant. Tell family or friends about the relationship.
- Ask yourself if you really know who you are communicating with? Scammers can use different profile pictures and lie about who they really are, especially online.
- Scrutinise the quality of any images or videos you’re sent. Do a reverse image search via Google or TinEye on any images they send you to see if they are being used by other people or have been reported as a scam. Criminals don’t want you to see what they really look like and the video quality is likely to appear distorted.
- Do a name search via Google to see if they’ve been reported on any scam sites
- Keep conversations happening in dating apps and websites. These companies have more potential to help if the conversations happen on their platforms compared to private/social media channels.
- Question why they are not willing to have a video chat. They obviously don’t want to be identified.
- Never give out personal information or act on investment advice from someone you have only just met online.
- Don't feel pressured to invest and block the person online. If there is any doubt in your mind, stop communicating with them immediately.
- Do not accept or transfer any money. It is known as money muling and is illegal. Stop all contact and contact your bank.
What to do if you have encountered a scam
If you believe you may have been a victim or lost money to a scam, it’s important to notify your financial institution as soon as possible.
Seek support from IDCARE (a free government-funded service) who can help you develop a response plan to limit the damage. IDCARE will never contact you out of the blue.
If you or someone you know has been impacted and may need ongoing help, there are support services available. These avenues of support are available to help, listen and believe.
STOP – Don’t give personal information or act on investment advice from someone you have only met online. Don’t feel pressured to invest. If you have any doubts, stop communicating with them.
THINK – Ask yourself if you really know who you are communicating with? Scammers can use different profile pictures and lie about who they really are, especially online. Do an internet search of the person’s name or photo to see if it’s a scam.
PROTECT – Act quickly if something feels wrong. Contact your bank immediately if you have invested money. Help others by reporting scams to Scamwatch.