THE Beatles once sang that money can’t buy you love but Australians are not convinced, losing millions to relationship scams that first pull on the heartstrings, then on the purse strings.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is now running its Scam Disruption Project in an effort to protect our most lovelorn.
The ACCC warns these “relationship scams” cause huge problems for victims, leaving them emotionally and economically hard-hit.
The standard mode-of-attack for these scumbag scammers is to reach out to a potential match through a legitimate and generally safe dating website, but asking you to chat with them elsewhere – maybe by private email.
They might spin a tale of growing up in Australia or being educated here, despite having a dodgy grasp on English.
And when you are offered their personal email address, it might be a Hotmail or Gmail account, addresses that can be quickly set up for free anywhere in the world.
Perhaps the most important reason to be suspicious though, is when they go not just for your heart, but for your wallet or purse.
ACCC’s Delia Rickard said the consumer watchdog will now try contacting people it believes are either victims or potential victims of these scammers.
“These scammers invest considerable time and effort deceiving you into a fake romance, a fraudulent business partnership or a complex investment scheme. Their ultimate aim is to build your trust so they can steal your personal details and money,” Ms Rickard said.
“Victims of relationship scams often don’t know they’re a victim until it’s too late and their money is gone forever.
“Alarm bells should go off if they request money, especially via wire transfer. This payment method is popular with scammers as it is almost impossible to trace and it is rare to recover money sent this way.”
ARE YOU BEING SCAMMED?
If these sound like you, do not send any money and contact the ACCC.
1. You’ve never met or seen them: scammers will say anything to avoid a ‘face-to-face’ meeting, whether it be in person or over the internet via a video chat (eg their camera isn’t working) – don’t excuse it away.
2. They’re not who they appear to be: scammers steal photos and profiles from real people to create an appealing facade. Run a Google Image search (learn how here) on photos and search words in their description to check if they’re the real deal.
3. They ask to chat with you privately: as many dating sites have processes in place to identify and remove scammers, scammers will try and move the conversation away from the scrutiny of community platforms to a one-on-one interaction such as email or phone – ‘walk’ away if this happens to you.
4. You don’t know a lot about them: scammers are keen to get to know you as closely as possible, but are often less forthcoming about themselves. Ask yourself, ‘how well do I really know this person?’
5. They ask you for money: once the connection’s been made – be it as a friend, admirer, or business partner – scammers will eventually ask you to transfer money. It could be after a few weeks, a few months or even years. Don’t fall for a tall tale, no matter how plausible it sounds.