As dating websites and apps become more popular, so do the number of online romance scams. In Australia, $28 million last year was lost in romance schemes. 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.
We’ve spoken to many people who have fallen victim to romance scams and what’s important to know is that these aren’t silly people handing over cash within the first five minutes of meeting someone. They are regular folk looking for friendship or love.
So how likely is it that your new internet love interest will go after your bank account? And what are the signs to look out for?
We’ve compiled the Top 5 strategies used by love scammers.
1. Scamming is their main job
Scammers refine their skills over time, so they get really good at engaging with potential victims; gaining trust and building bonds over time. They will talk with you over weeks, months or even years before asking for money.
Most people don’t recognise they’re caught up in a scam because they don’t get asked for money straight up. Requests happen after a relationship has been built.
2. But who are you really?
It’s common and easy for scammers to misrepresent their country of origin, age or gender. We’re not saying you shouldn’t use the internet when looking for love. Rather, be cautious with whom you engage.
Statistics say seniors are more vulnerable for scams and they are more likely to reveal personal information.
Senior women using online dating sites or chat rooms were most susceptible to romance scams and Australians were collectively sending up to $7 million every month to fraudsters in West Africa.
3. Amounts increase over time
Romance scams are the most lucrative – if the scammer gets the right victim. A victim loses an average of $21,000 and 30 per cent of people reported a loss of more than $100,000. But the scammers don’t ask for a large amount upfront.
Typically, the scam starts by asking you for small amounts increasing over time. If you say yes once, the scammer comes back for more (usually asking for larger amounts of money) as you’re known to be a soft target.
4. Force a quick decision
Australians want to help others in need and scammers prey on our generous nature.
After building a relationship, the scammer will fabricate a situation that needs urgent attention. Typically they claim that a personal emergency has happened and they don’t have access to funds anywhere else.
The scam has a sense of urgency that forces you to make a quick decision. Quick decisions are often bad decisions and scammers know that.
5. Creates intimacy and isolates you from others
Scammers win you over by creating a sense of intimacy. But they gain really power over you when they isolate you from discussing matters with your trusted network. A scammer will get you to be more reliant on your relationship with them and at the same time they will deter you from discussing details with friends & family.
What are the main dos and don’ts?
Do – Think about online dating as you would dating in real life. It’s important to remember that you don’t know who you are dealing with on the internet. If you get a sense that this person is overly amorous towards you, think twice about how realistic the situation is.
Do – As in real life, allow the relationship to develop over time. Reveal only information that can’t be used to harm you and take your time before revealing details about your life.
Don’t – Don’t allow the promise of love to cloud your judgment when it comes to requests for money. If a close friend asked for the same amount of money for a similar purpose, would you provide it? We caution against providing your credit card details or sending money via your bank or post office.
Don’t – If you’re asked for explicit photographs or personal information, don’t provide them. Sometimes these are used to commit fraud or as blackmail against people.
Report romance scams to
- Your bank to cancel accounts if you’ve provided details
- Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – 1300 795 995
- Scam Watch – www.scamwatch.gov.au
Have you encountered a romance scam? Share your experience to warn others in the comments section below.