Dating and romance scams are the most effective way for scammers to con people out of their cash - more than $25 million was lost through 4100 reported scams in 2016. In light of Valentine's Day tomorrow, the ACCC is warning people to be extra vigilant when looking for romance online, stating social media is now the top way for scammers to make contact.
Here's how to know if your Nigerian prince is legit.
Facebook is highlighted as being a popular method of contact, with those over 45 the most common targets.
"Reports of dating and romance scams increased by more than a third in 2016 and, sadly, the amount of money reported lost has also increased by about $3 million compared to 2015," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
"Romance scammers are getting increasingly manipulative so if you are going online this Valentine's Day to look for love, it's absolutely vital that you're able recognise the warning signs. This is particularly the case when using dating websites or apps or if you’re contacted by someone you don’t know through social media."
Rickard said scammers create very believable profiles, including stealing the identities of real, trusted people such as military personnel, aid workers or professionals working abroad.
"If you meet someone who seems too good to be true, do some research to see if they're the real deal," Rickard said.
Here's the main warning signs:
- Inconsistencies in their stories. For example, do they say they are university educated but have poor English and grammar?
- Is their profile picture legitimate or stolen? Do a reverse google image search.
- Be careful when someone expresses strong feelings quickly after you meet them. A scammer's currency is 'love at first typ'’ – they will use your emotions against you and leave you devastated financially and emotionally
- Asking for money. After gaining your trust – often waiting weeks, months or even years – they tell you an elaborate story involving some crisis, or plan to travel to see you and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details.
"This is a scammer's end-game: to abuse your trust so they can steal your money. Don't fall for their con – look after yourself when online and don't be afraid to cut off contact if something doesn’t feel right to you," Rickard said.
Follow these rules to stay safe:
- 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 intimate photos or use webcams in an intimate setting. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using such photos or webcam recordings to blackmail victims.
If you think you have fallen victim to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and report it to ScamWatch.