Criminals are trawling through the “about me” sections of online dating profiles and behaving like sex predators to steal money from lonely people during the coronavirus pandemic, a senior police officer has warned.
It comes as NSW police detectives see a big spike in the amount of romance scams this year, compared with previous years, with officers also making key arrests in the lockdown.
Financial Crimes Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett told The Daily Telegraph fraudsters had been looking for vulnerable people online before concocting stories of financial hardship and asking them to transfer money.
Superintendent Howlett, who was the boss of the sex crimes squad, likened their online behaviour to that of child sex offenders looking for at-risk people to groom.
“There are a lot of people with insecurities out there (who) are genuinely very lonely,” she said.
“(Scammers) target those people because they know they’re vulnerable people and they’re looking for someone.”
Police have accused a young Sydney woman, 27, of obtaining more than $670,000 through a sophisticated romance scam where she falsely claimed to be studying to become a doctor, a lawyer and a pilot while also running a business trading in designer handbags. She remains before the courts and is yet to enter a plea.
Last month, police also charged six young men over an alleged $6 million online scam syndicate that involved luring unwitting victims to hand over money by using fake dating profiles.
Ms Howlett said the increasing use and normalisation of online dating made it easier for criminals to target people in romance scams.
“The internet has created an opportunity for people to take advantage of others,” she said.
“These people will spend hours typing the same story … they’ll send it out to probably 10 or 15 people … it’s like fishing, they send it out and see who jumps on board.
“Whatever you do, do not send money, don’t fall for every sob story, be careful what you actually put online about yourself and your particulars, and also make inquires about a person – if they’re reluctant to meet you, that should be a warning sign.”
Originally published as Romance scammers fleece lonely singles in lockdown