Data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s ScamWatch website shows that Australians lost an average of $1.9 million a month to romance scams in 2015.

While many people have found love through online dating, scammers also use these websites to prey on people’s vulnerabilities.

It can be very difficult to verify someone’s true identity through social media and dating websites. And remember, while dating and romance scams often take place through dating sites, scammers may also use social media or email to make contact. They have even been known to telephone their victims as a first introduction.

Scammers can ‘groom’ a person seeking love over a period of weeks, months or longer.

Once the scammer has a hold, tales about needing financial help may follow, says Simon Cohen, Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria.

The reasons for needing money vary, as scammers are adept at tailoring the lie to suit their target. It could be a medical emergency, a family problem, a legal obligation they need to meet, an employment issue, or even a business opportunity.

Often, the skilled emotional manipulation means the scammer doesn’t even have to ask for money. The victim is so invested in what is ultimately a fake relationship that they offer it up willingly.

While love can blossom, people using dating sites should be wary. The figures tell us that scammers are taking advantage of more people every year.

Try to make sure that you are not a statistic, says Simon.

Tips for engaging in online dating

  1. Be wary of people who ask you for money. Do not send money to someone you have never met in person, even if you have spoken to them or received gifts.
  2. Do not give anyone your bank account details – for any reason.
  3. Be alert when communicating outside dating sites’ internal messaging system, such as by text or email. It is common practice for scammers to move the conversation offline, to a more private channel.
  4. Look out for strange word choices and elaborate sentences. Scammers rarely answer your questions directly and often paste entire paragraphs from other websites.
  5. Be alert for over-the-top expressions of love and attempts to progress the relationship very quickly. Scammers tend to profess their true love for you within a matter of days or weeks, and a proposal of marriage may quickly follow.
  6. Listen to warnings from your friends and family.
  7. Be wary if online dating profile pictures do not match someone’s description of themselves, or look like they were taken from a magazine. Many scammers use photos of other people or select a photo from Google images. You can find out if the photo is genuine by conducting a Google reverse image search.
  8. Scammers will rarely meet you in person, but will always have a seemingly practical or reasonable excuse why they cannot do so.

For more information on how to recognise and avoid such scams visit Consumer Affairs Victoria www.consumer.vic.gov.au,  www.seniorsrights.org.au or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s ScamWatch website www.scamwatch.gov.au. You can report a scam to Consumer Affairs Victoria on the are scammed scammed page.

Information for this story has been provided by Victoria Police and Consumer Affairs Victoria.