In 2021 consumer watchdog Scamwatch reported receiving 3,400 reports from victims and family member of victims who fell victim to romance scams.
Reported losses to these scams topped more than $56 million, with the true cost of romance scams likely being far higher as embarrassment or shame prevents more victims from submitting an official report.
Scamwatch estimates as little as 13 per cent of victims report their losses.
“It’s important to look out for friends or family members who are using online dating apps and talk about how to spot romance scams,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“Talking about scams, including your own experiences, can help others identify them and may prevent them from falling victim in the future.”
More than half of reported romance scams occurred on social networking websites or dating apps, where users reported scammers using “emotional triggers” to take advantage of victims.
Often the scammers will employ a tactic called “love bombing”, where they profess love for the victim quickly and shower them with affection.
Once a connection is established the scammer typically invents an elaborate story that asks the victim to send money, gifts or financial information to aid them.
Another technique used by romance scammers is called “romance baiting”, whereby after establishing a connection the scammer will encourage the victim to invest in a scheme, often cryptocurrency.
“Scammers can come up with endless reasons to try and convince you to send money. If you start to feel pressured by your admirer, stop communicating with them,” Ms Rickard said.
“Another red flag to look out for is when scammers provide constant excuses as to why they cannot meet in person or use the video function.”
Of the victims who reported their losses to Scamwatch, many were older: Australians aged over 55 made up almost half of all victims with women reporting higher losses than men.
Ms Rickard said simple steps people can take to avoid romance scams is to keep all financial information private, and to Google a person’s identity before committing further.
“Never send money or give personal or financial information to someone you’ve only met online. Think very carefully about taking investment or financial advice from someone on a dating app, ” Ms Rickard said.
“Do an internet search with the name or photo of your love interest or some of the phrases they have used to try to identify if it is a scam.”
If somebody thinks they have been the victim of a romance scam, they are urged to contact their bank or financial institution as quickly as possible, as well as the platform in which they met the scammer.
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As well as financial losses, romance scams can also cause significant emotional suffering. Anyone experiencing emotional distress about their experience with a scam, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.