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Avoiding dating and romance scams

10/05/2021

How to identify and avoid romance scams.

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In the world of lonely hearts, not everyone is genuine - dating and romance scams abound. Dating websites and social pages can sometimes attract the types of people that aren’t looking for love, but are seeking vulnerable people to target.

Let's take a look at how dating and romance scams work, and how to avoid becoming a victim.

How romance scams work

A romance scam is one where someone pretends to have a romantic interest in another person so they can gain their trust, appeal to their emotions, and then defraud them. Romance scammers may do some (or all) of the following things:

  • Create fake profiles on online dating websites or social pages
  • Very quickly show romantic interest in you before you’ve met in person
  • Ask you to send intimate images or videos of yourself
  • Attempt to gain your trust and / or appeal to your emotions with stories of hardship
  • Request gifts, money or assistance to fund emergencies or pay for flights to visit you once they have gained your trust
  • Ask you to transfer money on their behalf, much like in overseas scams.

These types of scammers are also more inclined to target people over 40 who are likely to be financially better-off than younger people.

These types of fraudsters use a number of methods:

  • Contact – according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC’s) Scamwatch figures for March 2019, the most common method of contact is social networking at 34%. Then comes the internet (25%), mobile apps (17%), email (16%) and SMS (5%). The most common age groups targeted are 35 to 44, followed by 45 to 54 then 55 to 64.
  • Payments – scammers typically ask for money via less-detectable methods such as wire transfer or money order. They may also ask for funds in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.

During March 2019, the ACCC received 331 reports of online dating scams, amounting to over $2 million in losses. Victims lose as much as $20 million a year in Australia.

The potential impact of romance scams

There are many reasons to avoid romance scams:

  • It’s highly unlikely you will ever meet in person, or get your money back
  • Scammers can use intimate pictures to blackmail you
  • Transferring money on behalf of another person is money laundering, which is a criminal offence
  • Sometimes these scammers are part of criminal networks which could put you in danger.

Scamwatch cites the case of an older woman (‘Georgina’) who was new to Facebook and unaware of the potential pitfalls. Georgina ended up losing about $100,000 to ‘Jim’ – a scammer claiming to be a serviceman on peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan. 

Scamwatch recommends ceasing contact with an online admirer if they ask for financial help, “no matter how genuine they sound”.

How to identify dating scams

Of course, many people on these types of sites are genuinely looking for a relationship. There are however some warning signs of those who aren’t. These include where:

  • Someone shows unreasonably quick romantic interest in you, often showering you with compliments
  • The person wants to move off the site quite quickly to another more private form of communication, such as email
  • There are inconsistencies – such as claims of higher education while using poor grammar or bad spelling
  • They give you stories of personal tragedies that require your urgent financial help
  • They are reluctant to talk face-to-face which could make them more identifiable.

Tips for avoiding and reporting romance scams

If you see warning signs there are things you can do to protect yourself, such as:

  • Check if they are genuine by doing an image search of their profile picture
  • Never share financial or personal information or send money to people you don’t know or trust
  • Report the scam to the site where you made contact, and via the Australian Cyber Security Centre
  • If you have provided financial details, contact your bank immediately.

Reporting these types of scams helps spread the news about them and protect others. It’s also a good idea to warn friends and relatives who are looking for love – especially those of a more trusting and generous nature.

This article is intended to provide general information of an educational nature only. Information in this article is current as at the date of publication.

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