More than $38 million was lost to dating and romance scams across the country last year.
But that only accounts for the losses reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch, so the true figure is likely much higher.
Romance scams can involve months of conversations and building trust, but some scammers can strike without needing to invest much time.
Sometimes all it takes is a quick scan of your dating profile for scammers to get the personal information they need.
Here’s how to spot a scammer and how to keep your personal information safe.
What do scammers need to steal your identity?
Ritesh Chugh, an associate professor at Central Queensland University’s College of Information and Communication Technology, says there’s a lot scammers can do with your full name, email address, phone number, birthdate and home address.
“Cybercriminals don’t need access to all of these pieces of information,” Dr Chugh says.
He says they could cherrypick a few vital bits of information, such as your full name and date of birth, and that could be enough for their fraudulent activities.
And when scammers know how and where to look for these details, it doesn’t take much to find them.
Here are some ways to protect yourself against scammers on dating apps.
How to build a safe profile
Scan your photos for personal details
“I think my key message is to avoid sharing any personally identifiable information through the profile picture,” Dr Chugh says.
Before you add a picture to your profile, scan for personal details and pay attention to the things in the background of the photo.
Keep things like name badges or uniforms out of them, because they could give someone a clue about where you work.
And be wary of putting local landmarks in the background.
Use different photos from your social media profiles
“This will stop someone finding you, and information about you, when they do an image search,” the federal government’s eSafety Commissioner website says.
It goes on to say that people seeing your social media profile can give them access to personal information without you realising it.
“Social media profiles are a rich source of personal information for scammers,” Dr Chugh says.
“Through our profiles, scammers can know our full name, email, complete date of birth, phone number, place of birth, address and photos.”
For example, a scammer might be able to get your birthdate from seeing “happy birthday” posts on your profile.
Be vague about your background
Dating profiles ask for details about your work life, education and background, but you can decide how much you reveal.
“Don’t give away too much personal information and keep the information generic,” Dr Chugh says.
“Mention your career, not where you work.
“Mention where you’re from, not your entire address.”
Interacting with matches
Look out for dodgy profiles
“I think people should be aware of profiles that only provide one or two photos in their account,” Dr Chugh says.
“Usually, that looks a bit suss.”
Scamwatch also flags the following warning signs:
- Poor spelling and grammar
- Details that don’t match with photos
- People with very vague preferences
Here’s an example of a dodgy dating profile from Scamwatch:
Be strategic with your questions
If you think you’ve matched with a scammer, Dr Chugh recommends talking about specific details and seeing how they respond.
“Ask them geographical questions,” she says.
“They might say ‘I live here’, so ask them about that area.”
Be wary about moving off-platform
Some scammers will try to convince their victims to continue their conversation off the app they matched on.
They might suggest contacting them on encrypted messaging service where there are less protections.
Do a reverse image search of their profile pictures
“Romance scammers often use stolen photos of people to create their own profiles,” Dr Chugh says.
“It is advisable to do a reverse image search through Google Images to see if the photo appears elsewhere on the internet or it is perhaps a stock image.”
The Australian Cyber Security Centre also recommends doing a reverse image search to help you tell the difference between a genuine profile and a dodgy one.
Here’s how to do a reverse image search through Google:
- 1.Go to Google Images
- 2.Click “Search by image”
- 3.Click “Upload an image”
- 4.Choose “file or Browse”
- 5.Select the photo you’re using
- 6.Click “Open or Choose”
Don’t agree to send anyone money
Scammers might take time to build up your trust before they ask for money.
“Scammers will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as showering you with loving words, sharing ‘personal information’ and even sending you gifts,” a Scamwatch factsheet says.
“They may take months to build what may feel like the romance of a lifetime and may even pretend to book flights to visit you, but never actually come.
“Once they have gained your trust and your defences are down, they will ask you (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts or your banking/credit card details.”
Don’t send money to someone you don’t know or trust.
Don’t just be wary of requests for money
Sometimes scammers try to trick their victims into money laundering or transporting illegal goods, Scamwatch says.
“Sometimes the scammer will send you valuable items such as laptop computers and mobile phones, and ask you to resend them somewhere,” it says.
“They will invent some reason why they need you to send the goods but this is just a way for them to cover up their criminal activity.
“Alternatively they may ask you to buy the goods yourself and send them somewhere.
“You might even be asked to accept money into your bank account and then transfer it to someone else.”
Remember, money laundering is a criminal offence.
Don’t send intimate images unless you completely trust the person
A scammer might try to trick their victim into sending intimate, sexual images.
They might later attempt to blackmail them by threatening to publish the images.
How do you report a scammer?
People are encouraged to report scams to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, regardless of whether they’ve lost money or not.
You can report cybercrimes to police through the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s online reporting portal.
If you’re concerned you’re a victim of identity theft, you can contact IDCARE, a not-for-profit charity that describes itself as Australia’s national identity and cyber support service.
The ACCC also recommends Lifeline for crisis support to help with emotional distress about scams and Beyond Blue for support for anxiety and depression.