WITH Valentine’s Day just around the corner, scammers are coming out of the woodwork to prey on vulnerable singles seeking love.
But it’s not just heartache they have in store – their victims will also be swindled out of their hard-earned cash.
More than $24 million was lost by Australians to dating and romance scams last year, $4 million more than recorded by Scamwatch in 2017. People aged over 45 reported the majority of the losses.
Scammers aren’t just targeting those actively looking for love with dating profiles, but are also targeting their victims on social media. Scamwatch reports more than one third of victims were contacted via social media accounts – more than any other medium.
The grim realities are painted clearly with Scamwatch’s case study, based on real accounts reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Georgina* lost more than $100,000 after a man named “Jim” contacted her on Facebook. Jim claimed to be a serviceman on peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan.
It didn’t start as a romance – Jim said he was lonely and looking for friends to keep him company while he was stuck on duty in the middle of nowhere. Soon after befriending her, Jim told Georgina he had lost his wife to cancer. His story of looking after her was similar to Georgina’s own experience with her late husband.
Shortly after they became friends, Jim said he was being posted to Nigeria but his time in the U.S. military was nearly finished. He told Georgina all about his retirement plans of setting up a jewellery store and was excited to be in Nigeria, close to where precious stones were being mined.
He told Georgina he was coming to see her but had some trouble with his bank card not working in Nigeria and couldn’t get funds to pay for an export tax on his gemstones. Georgina transferred some money to him to cover the tax which he explained was only two per cent of the value of the gemstones but still amounted to $15,000. It was a lot of money to send but she figured he was a good and honest serviceman and if things worked out they would spend the rest of their lives together.
Everything was going well until Jim landed in Malaysia for a stopover. Here, he claimed customs officials seized the gemstones and were demanding $20,000 to have them released. Georgina borrowed this amount against the family home and sent it to the Malaysian officials, but was told Jim was now in gaol for smuggling.
Georgina contacted Jim’s lawyer and paid $15,000 to get an Anti-terrorism and Money Laundering certificate and his legal fees, but there were more fees to extend Jim’s visa while he waited for the court to process all the documents.
When Georgina ran out of money, she contacted police and learnt it was all an elaborate scam and it was unlikely she would be able to reclaim the money.
Scamwatch has put together a list of things to watch out for online.
- You meet someone online and after just a few contacts they profess strong feelings for you, and ask to chat with you privately. If you met on a dating site they will try and move you away from the site and communicate via chat or email.
- Their profile on the internet dating website or their Facebook page is not consistent with what they tell you. For example, their profile picture looks different to their description of themselves, or they say they are university educated but their English is poor.
- After gaining your trust – often waiting weeks, months or even years – they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details.
- Their messages are often poorly written, vague and escalate quickly from introduction to love.
- If you don’t send money straight away, their messages and calls become more desperate, persistent or direct. If you do send money, they continue to ask you to send more.
- They don’t keep their promises and always have an excuse for why they can't travel to meet you and why they always need more money.
Scams can be reported to Scamwatch.
If you think you’ve been scammed and have lost money, contact your local police station and financial institution straight away.
* Name has been changed for privacy.