Australians are delivering millions of dollars into the hands of scammers each year in the hope of romance and love, but many incidents are going unreported.
Just in the month of January, Scamwatch data reveals Australians lost an astonishing $1.8 million to dating and romance scams.
But Delia Rickard, deputy chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), is confident the figure was much higher.
“We’ve done quite a bit of disruption work using financial data to identify people that we think might be sending money to scammers and in almost all cases, we find they have,” she said.
“We can see there has been a long history of them sending money and mostly, they haven’t reported it to us.”
Ms Rickard said dating and romance scams were “the cruellest of scams” because the perpetrators used victims’ hopes of finding a loving partner to fleece them financially.
“It is not uncommon to see people lose over $100,000,” she said.
“We have seen people lose over $1 million, mortgage their homes, lose everything financially and, of course, become emotionally devastated.”
Although the person being scammed did not realise, Ms Rickard said there may be an entire group of people operating behind the fictional profile they had been seduced by.
“There are big numbers of people involved in this. It is big organised crime [and] most of the scammers are based overseas,” she said.
Ms Rickard said scam groups were operating on many sites, including Facebook, dating sites and sites targeting different religious and ethnic groups, to groom potential victims and gain their trust.
It can take weeks, months, sometimes years before the scammers’ ultimate aim becomes clear, but there will always be a request for money Ms Rickard said.
“They will spin you a story asking for money. If you pay that, there will be another story and another. They are very persistent,” she said.
“These scams have huge benefits for the scammers — real wealth — so they put an awful lot of time into grooming and deceiving people who believe they have found the love of their life.”