Romance scams occur when criminals adopt a fake online identity to gain a victim's affection and trust - to then use the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and steal from the victim.
Valentine's Day is celebrated in different ways around the world, but be mindful of scammers looking to con you out of your hard-earned money in the name of love - or so they say... In 2019, Australians lost more than $28.6 million to scammers through dating and romance scams, with people aged between 45-64 the most affected - losing $18 million. Just imagine how many bunches of roses or boxes of chocolates that money could buy!
Scammers typically create a fake online profile designed to lure you in
The ACCC Scamwatch reports show that people in their prime of life are most affected. Losses by people in the 45-64 age group represented 63 per cent of the total money lost. And if that doesn't alarm you enough, you may be surprised to hear that it wasn't only the traditional dating websites through which people were targeted. In fact social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook had the highest losses with over 33 per cent of money lost through these sites.
Showing their ability to adapt and diversify, a new trend is for criminals to contact people through apps like Google Hangouts, and online games such as Words with Friends, and Scrabble to ensnare unwilling victims with promises of companionship and love.
Millions of dollars is lost to these kind of scams. And while these figures are heart breaking any way you look at them, romance scams are particularly devastating to victims, not only do people lose out financially, they also take an emotional toll - which can have a lasting psychological impact on people.
So how do you avoid this heartache and financial devastation?
The ACCC Scamwatch advice is to understand that scammers target everyone - all of us are vulnerable to a scam at some time. It's not because of greed or stupidity.
Scammers succeed because they look like the real thing and catch you off guard when you're not expecting it.
Scammers are criminals who create believable stories to convince you to give them your money or personal details. Romance scammers try and make you fall in love with the persona they have created, and quickly profess their love for you - their target victim. Take this email as an example:
This is the first communication sent to someone in an attempt to build a relationship quickly. Thankfully a spam filter picked this up and the message was never responded to. However the pattern usually follows that after this initial introduction, often through very personal, intimate conversations via Google Hangouts, instant messaging or email, the scammer attempts to manipulate and exploit their potential victim by preying on their emotions and appealing to their sense of empathy.
Before long, the cyber criminal makes a request for money. They will weave complicated stories about why they can't meet in person, and ask you to send money or provide financial aid so they can travel to meet you. In some cases they go to great lengths to impersonate military personnel from overseas forces, preying on a lack of knowledge around military processes and impersonating a real soldier. By posting photos downloaded from the internet, they give strength to their story, saying they are serving in a combat zone or foreign country, most often a West African country, and give excuses for needing money for a leave permit, or medical care, to return to their home country, or to help their children.
Complying with these requests often places the victim at risk financially, and opens them up to the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft. Scamwatch tell us that if the person sends money, the scammer will ask for more, and if they don’t, the scammer may become aggressive or use guilt to further manipulate their victim.
Never agree to transfer money for someone else. It is possible that the scammer is involved in money laundering which is a criminal offence.
Think about it
'If you’re interacting with someone online, it’s important to be alert and consider the possibility that it may be a scam,' ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said. 'Don’t give out personal information, including your financial details, to anybody you haven’t met in person, no matter who they say they are, and don’t share intimate photos or use webcams in an intimate setting. Don’t agree to carry packages internationally or agree to transfer money for someone else as you may be inadvertently committing a crime.'
If you become concerned by the conversation, such as if the person is asking for ‘favours’ or money, the advice is that you cease communications. There is no need for niceties - use technology to your advantage and block their contact in your phone or email address list, block their messaging capability, add them to your spam list.
And if you think you may have provided banking details to a scammer - contact your bank or financial institution as soon as possible.
Where to get help
If you've lost money to a scam or given out your personal details to a scammer, you're unlikely to get your money back. However there are steps you can take straight away to limit the damage and protect yourself from further loss. Visit the ACCC Scamwatch website for details on the help that's .
Read more on protecting yourself from
Consider new ways you can meet people
Visit our Get involved page on Seniors Online for information and videos on groups and clubs you can join to meet like-minded people, share your skills or volunteer with. And read more about becoming scam savvy on Seniors Online.
Reviewed 20 December 2022