Last year, Aussies lost $634 million to all types of cons.
But with lockdowns in place and feelings of isolation at an all-time high, romance scams have become increasingly concerning.
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In 2019, Australians lost a staggering $83 million to dating and romance scams – which is a 30 per cent increase on the year before.
And while the stigma around this kind of scam often paints a picture of the victims being older women, that’s no longer the case.
These scammers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and reaching out to people on platforms often aimed at teenagers and young adults.
“These scammers keep up-to-date with technology, so one of the things we’re finding is that romance scams can take place on any online site where people connect,” said digital literacy expert Dr Joanne Orlando.
“These scammers spend weeks or months gaining confidence in order to get money.
“It might be in the form of cash, but it might be in the form of something like gift cards.”
Signs to look for
As many people are still afraid to come forward about being scammed, it’s important to look out for warning signs in loved ones.
They can include being unusually secretive around devices, not being open with information, and excuses to not meet their new partner.
“Unfortunately, a lot of victims are really embarrassed about being conned,” said Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett.
“By the time we actually become aware of it, if they’ve sent money, often it has been moved overseas and we have difficulty tracking it back.
“We work closely with financial institutions and with our overseas counterparts, and within Australia as well with law enforcement.
Don’t send anyone money
“The main thing is, if you meet someone online, whatever you do, do not send them money.
“They will give you a sob story, and they’re actually grooming their victim. They play to the weakness of the victim and that something that we really need to stop.
“Unfortunately, once they get money out of you, they will on-sell your details to other scammers.
“They’ll also open up bank accounts, loans, or apply for credit once they have your details, which can affect the victim’s credit rating.”
What a scam looks like
“Once a scammer contacts you, they run according to very well-oiled scripts,” Orlando said.
“They refine them and refine them so they know the way to catch people.
“One sign is there is always a physical distance – they might be living in London, but they’re Australian and they can’t get back because of COVID.
“There’s always a reason that they want to meet you, but they never can.
“Another sign is that there’s poor spelling and grammar.
“They might be working offshore, for example in Nigeria – so English is their second language.
“They might say they’re a physics professor in Australia, but their spelling and grammar just doesn’t add up to that.
“They also quickly try to take you off the platform and take you onto someone much more private, where they have more control.
“It might be on WhatsApp, or they’ll send you an email address.”
What to do if you get scammed
“Attend your local police station and report it or talk to your financial institution if you have sent any money,” Howlett said.
“But the priority is, do not send any money. Just don’t fall for their stories.
“Often it is a sob story and they are grooming their victim – they look at your profile and look at what you put online, so they’ll build a story around what you’ve incorporated in your profile – and that’s how they’re playing to you.”