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Don’t fall head over heels for a romance scam

Valentine’s Day might be that perfect opportunity for star-crossed lovers to share their heartfelt attraction to a potential partner, but it is also an opportunity for heartless scammers to prey on the lonely and vulnerable.

To help protect those looking for love, Crime Stoppers encourages people to be on the lookout for signs that they are being scammed, and know how to stay safe when meeting someone new for the first time.

While dating should be a fun and safe experience, important rules apply whether meeting someone online or in person for the first time. It is important to trust your instincts and remember that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is, and never, ever get financially involved with someone you hardly know.

Online dating sites are an increasingly popular option for many looking for love, but it is important to safeguard your privacy and anonymity. Don’t rush into meeting someone offline, and only exchange personal details when you are comfortable to do so.

If you do get to that point where you want to share contact details, consider using a free email service provider such as Gmail, Yahoo! or Hotmail in preference to a work email address. The more information you provide, the easier it is for someone to find out more about you via any social media account, online searching, or even contacting your employer under false pretence.

It is hard to gauge how many people have actually fallen victims to a love scam because often victims are too embarrassed to come forward. Avoid putting yourself in that position by never sending money or offering financial assistance to someone you’re just getting to know – even if they claim it’s an emergency or promise to pay you back.

Dating scammers often try and trick their victims into falling in love and then deceitfully take their money. If someone you’ve met online but never met in person asks you to loan or gift them money then alarm bells should be ringing.

Australians reported almost 4,000 dating and romance scams in 2019, with losses of more than $28.6 million, and that is thought to be just the tip of the iceberg. Around 37.5 per cent of reports resulted in a loss, with an average loss of more than $19,000.

Some facts and figures provided by Scamwatch include:

  • 31.4 per cent of dating and romance scams occurred via social media and online forums.
  • The highest losses (over 33 per cent or $9.1 million) occurred via social media.
  • Instagram was the most common social media website totalling 8.8 per cent of dating and romance scam reports.
  • Facebook was the social media website that incurred the highest losses totalling 7.3 per cent of all losses.
  • People aged 45–64 were most affected with 1470 reports and over $18 million in losses. This represents 63 per cent of total losses to dating and romance scams.
  • Women reported 54.9 per cent (2165 reports) of all dating and romance scam reports, with the remainder 43.3 per cent (1707 reports) made by men, and 1.8 per cent (74 reports) did not specify gender.
  • Women reported the highest total losses of $21.5 million (75.3 per cent of all losses). Men reported $7 million or 24.6 per cent of the total losses.
  • The majority of losses occurred via bank transfer, totalling 33.8 per cent or almost $9.7 million. This was followed by ‘other payment’ method such as iTunes, Steam and Google Play gift cards, which totalled $8.8 million or 30.8 per cent of all losses.

Some safe dating tips include:

  • Meet when you are ready – you are not obliged to meet anyone so don’t feel pressured. Regardless of how much communication you’ve had online, take all the time you need to become comfortable with someone before sharing any contact details.
  • Talk on the phone – before jumping into a face-to-face meeting, think about having a chat on the phone before you meet – and consider using your mobile instead of sharing your home or work number.
  • Pick a safe place – the ideal spot will be in a well-lit public location, with plenty of people around, is easy to get to and where you will feel comfortable. If possible, have your own transport to begin with rather than accepting any offer to be picked up.
  • Tell a friend – on the first date, let a trusted friend know where you will be and give them your date’s contact number and name. Think about asking that person to call at a pre-determined time for a safety check-in. If the date is a dud, it makes for a good excuse to cut the date short. Make sure you’ve charged your mobile before heading out.
  • Watch your drink – never leave your drink unattended. It is very quick and easy to spike a drink so don’t give anyone that opportunity.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings, stay vigilant, and if you feel in danger when out with someone new then move and consider calling for help.

Find out more about dating scams at https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/dating-romance