SCORES of Australian senior loveseekers are falling victim to being swindled in "romance fraud".
That's according to relationship coach Angela Barrett, who is urging older people looking for love to proceed with caution this Valentine's Day.
"Valentine's Day is the one event of the year that can make the lack of a romantic partner painfully obvious," says Ms Barrett, principal of Relationship InSight. "And while internet dating is an increasingly appealing and convenient option for seniors looking for someone to spend their twilight years with it needs to be done with caution."
She said scammers are generally located overseas "can be men or women, use a fake photo and profile, and pass themselves off as a good-hearted person genuinely seeking love. They cultivate the relationship over weeks, months or longer and eventually start asking for money - often small amounts at first.
Ms Barrett said scores of intelligent Australian seniors looking for love have been caught out.
"In fact, in 2015, romance fraudsters took $55 million from innocent Australians who just wanted to be loved. And this is a conservative figure, as a large number of cases go unreported due to the victim's humiliation," she said.
Dr Cassandra Cross is a senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology who has been studying online fraud for almost nine years. She says senior loveseekers are at higher risk than younger people because of the isolation and loneliness that can come with older age and because they are financially set up for the next stage of life.
"Older people are attractive targets because they have access to superannuation, life savings and own their own homes," Dr Cross said. "Scammers can be so slick they are hard to detect and aim to create a strong and intense connection with the victim so the victim doesn't doubt that the love is real."
Dating websites and apps that have no identity check and have a focus on short-term "hook-ups" present greater risk. Ms Barrett advises looking for site with identity check processes, such as Stitch - a relationship community created for over 50s, by over 50s. This site can be joined by anyone over 50 looking for companionship - be it romance, friendship or anything in between. There is a stringent identity check process to protect members from scammers and "gold-diggers" and the focus is on members getting together with like-minded others.
"The biggest danger 'meeting' people online is that they're not who they say they are," said Stitch founder Andrew Dowling. "That's why our focus is on real interactions between real people. It's a non-threatening way for people to start to socialise again after the loss of a spouse."
TEN TIPS FOR SAFETY WHEN INTERNET DATING
- Keep your profile and your photo real and accurate to who you are at heart. In the same way that you don't want to meet someone inauthentic, don't misrepresent or exaggerate yourself.
- Be wary of profile pictures and words that seem perfect. Scammers often lift photos from the internet and employ writers to write their profiles.
- Guard your money. No matter how far into a relationship you are, if a request comes for money, the answer should always be a firm "no".
- Guard your personal details. Don't use an email address that includes your last name. Create a new email address specifically for online dating to reduce your risk of having personal details accessed.
- Don't tell anyone online your address, suburb, workplace or date of birth.
- Don't click on any links sent to you by an online love interest - this can be a way of them gaining access to your webcam and your computer.
- Don't friend new love interests on Facebook or other social media as this gives them access to your friends.
- Beware of people who profess strong feelings quickly, who claim to live in your country but are unable to meet you for some reason, or who plan to meet you then something dramatic suddenly happens.
- Maintain a healthy skepticism. If they sound too good to be true, there's a chance that they are.
- Research online dating sites or apps before signing up. Read terms and conditions so you know what you're signing up to and how much it will cost. Check your options for cancelling the contract. www.relationshipinsight.com.au