Dating and romance scams are very destructive – both financially and emotionally. Don’t let them break your heart or wallet. Stay one step ahead of romance scams with these tips.
Unfortunately, romance scams are on the rise. Australians lost $142 million to romance scams in 2021 and they’re one of the top three scams causing the most financial and emotional harm.1
It’s important to know the signs of these scams so that you can protect yourself, your loved ones and your friends – because people don’t usually know they’re part of a romance scam until it’s too late.
How romance 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.
Scammers target people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be a potential partner. They take advantage of emotional triggers to get a victim to provide money, gifts or share personal details.
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.
While dating and romance scams often take place through online dating websites, scammers can also use social media or email to contact a victim. They can even telephone and speak to their potential victim as a first introduction to try and establish that emotional connection. These scams are also known as ‘catfishing’.
Once the relationship develops they ask a victim (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts or banking/credit card details.
What are the warning signs?
Scammers gain the trust of often vulnerable people by pretending they’re looking for friendship or love. It can happen quickly, and once trust is established, the scammer will ask for money or personal information to carry out identity theft. Signs you might be involved in a romance scam include:
- Someone you meet online professes strong feelings for you after a few short contacts and ask to chat with your privately via encrypted chat or email.
- After gaining trust they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details.
- If you don’t send money straight away, messages and calls become desperate, persistent or direct.
- If you do send money, they ask for more.
- They always have an excuse for not keeping promises about travelling to meet and needing more money.
How can I protect myself?
- 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.
- 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.
What to do if you think you’ve been a victim of a romance scam?
If you, your friend or relative has already sent money, you should report it to the police, your bank and the Australian Government’s ReportCyber website at cyber.gov.au/acsc/report
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
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
1 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Targeting Scams Report 2021
Source: IOOF/Insignia Financial