$23 million from 2,620 Australians was reported lost in dating scams last year. In the lead up to Valentine's Day, the ACCC have put a call out to be wary of any love interest that asks you to part with your cash.
"Romance scams continue to cause significant emotional and financial harm to the community. We know these figures are only the tip of the iceberg as many victims are reluctant to admit to friends, family or authorities that they fell for a scam," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
"Scammers are experts at preying on people’s weaknesses and will spend months and even years grooming victims and lowering their defences. Inevitably, the fraudster will spin a tall tale about why they suddenly need your financial help, ranging from medical emergencies to failed business ventures to needing to rebook flights to visit you."
"Once victims realise that their admirer is actually a criminal, the emotional consequences can be devastating. This is why disrupting relationship scams continues to be a priority for the ACCC," Ms Rickard said.
The ACCC's Scam Disruption Project has sent over 6,000 letters asking individuals who sent money to high risk jurisdictions to reconsider sending money offshore. 75 per cent of those people who received these letters ceased sending money for at least six weeks.
"Nearly one quarter of reported romance scams originate on social media, in particular Facebook. The ACCC is looking to work with social media platforms to keep romance scammers off their sites and to help users recognise when they are being scammed," Ms Rickard said.
The ACCC has updated best practice guidelines to assist the online dating industry to combat scams. The revised version of the guidelines aims to address the evolving nature of online scams and provide the latest advice. Sites that take steps to implement these guidelines create a safer online environment for their customers.
"The ACCC now seeks the continued cooperation of industry in implementing the revised guidelines and encourages their adoption by any dating site that has not yet taken steps to protect their users from scammers," Ms Rickard said.
"If online dating sites don’t have advice about safe dating practices, then consumers should carefully consider whether those sites have their best interests at heart."
Tips to avoid being scammed include:
- Never provide your financial details or send funds to someone you’ve met online. Scammers particularly seek money orders, wire transfers or international funds transfer as it’s rare to recover money sent this way.
- Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided as scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online.
- Be very wary if you are moved off a dating website as scammers prefer to correspond through private emails or the phone to avoid detection.
- Don’t share photos or webcam of a private nature. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using this material to blackmail victims.
If you think you have fallen victim to a fraudster, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and report it to ScamWatch.