Dating websites and social media can be a great way to meet people, but it’s vital to be aware that romance scammers also use these sites to take advantage of people looking for romantic partners. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch reports that in 2017, Australians lost over $20 million to romance scams. The actual number may be higher as many people don’t report their experience.
Romance scams can happen to anyone - so, what are the signs to look out for?
Red flags to watch out for
- Scammers often create online profiles and pretend to be financially secure, saying they work in trusted professions, such as military personnel, aid workers or doctors.
- They often claim to be travelling or working overseas.
- They may express strong feelings for you in a relatively short time frame.
- They can appear “too perfect”, enjoying all the same interests as you.
- They often want to move the relationship away from the website to a private channel such as email or instant messaging.
- Their dating website or their other social media profiles may not be consistent with what they tell you.
- Their messages may contain poor grammar or spelling, especially for a person who claims to come from a background where English is their first language.
- They may want to keep your romance a secret – and ask you not to discuss your relationship with family or friends.
- After building the relationship – it could be weeks, months or even years, they will ask for money - usually to help with a personal or family “emergency” (such as medical or legal bills), or a business venture.
- If you don’t send money, they become persistent and demanding that you help them. They may also ask for your account details – and let you know that someone else is helping them - they just need to deposit the money in your account and will ask you to forward this on to them.
- If you do send money, they will continue to ask you to send more.
- They will always have an excuse for why they can’t meet you face to face.
If you have concerns about someone you’ve connected with – here are some things you can do:
- Do your research – you can reverse image search the person’s profile photo (via a Google image search), to see whether they have used a stock image or taken the profile from a real person. You can also copy and paste their profile information to see if the content has been used elsewhere or with a different profile.
- Ask lots of questions – specifically about their claimed interests and profession, if they can’t answer these easily, they may not be telling you the truth.
- Never send money to anyone you haven’t met in person. Remember if you direct transfer funds, it is virtually impossible to recover.
- Never provide your financial details so that they can send you money. You don’t know where this money has come from, and you may unintentionally be committing a crime.
- Be careful about how much you reveal about yourself online, set your privacy settings to share only with your friends, and only accept invitations from people you know. It’s easy for a scammer to search your name and find your social media profiles – suddenly, you and your romantic interest have an “uncanny” connection, with many interests in common.
What to do if you believe you may be involved in a romance scam:
- If you think you’re dealing with a scammer - cut off all contact. Block the person from your email and social media. The scammer will soon move on and leave you alone.
- Report it to Scamwatch, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN), as well as the site on which you connected.
- Visit Scamwatch’s information on romance scams here: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/dating-romance
- If you have sent them funds or given them your financial information, contact us on 13 22 65.