While there are many success stories of people falling in love after meeting online, there are also some very sad tales involving victims of romance scams, consumer authorities are warning.
Australians reported losing more than $38-million to romance scammers in 2020, the majority of which was lost through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
An average loss of $30,000 per victim
In Western Australia alone, last year 72 lovelorn victims reported losing $2.17-million – an average loss of $30,000 each.
These figures have prompted consumer protection agencies across the country to remind people to be cautious and that victims aren’t just those who are actively seeking a partner – it could be you, a friend or family member.
Romance scammers will often spend months building up trust before asking for money from their victim, who may agree to send funds because they feel the need is genuine, or believe it will be used to buy an airfare so their love-interest can travel to meet them.
Scammers will likely use false images
But while the victim is feeling loved-up, the scammer becomes cashed-up.
Often these people will use stock images, or images they’ve taken from someone else’s social media, so before engaging online it’s important to do a reverse-image search via Google or TinEye.
“Always be wary if the person you’ve met online quickly wants to move communications away from the dating website or app and onto another platform such as email, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or Viber,” advises WA’s Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Lanie Chopping.
Be suspicious if they won’t meet you
“If they ask for money, but won’t meet in person, that’s a big red flag. Never give money to someone you haven’t met in person.”
Chopping says it’s important be careful about the personal information you share, as many romance scam victims lose more than money. They can also experience fraud – such as discovering new mobile phone accounts set up in their name, or that their superannuation account has been accessed.
People who believe they are the victim of such a scam can report it to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) by visiting www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam