Don't swipe right on a scammer this Valentine's Day
SCAMWATCH is urging tech-savvy daters to be on the lookout for romance scammers this Valentine's Day as data shows these scams are increasingly happening through social media and dating apps.
And State Member for Jordan Charis Mullen is urging people to make sure they don't get caught up in costly dating app fees.
"Scammers tend to go where people are, and in the dating world that increasingly means on social media and dating apps," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
Women are particularly at risk to losing money to romance scams with Scamwatch data showing they are four times more likely to report losing money compared to men.
Scamwatch received nearly 4000 reports of dating and romance scams last year, with losses of over $24.6 million - a 20 per cent increase from 2017.
Women reported a total financial loss of almost $20 million while men reported a total loss of almost $5 million. People aged 45 to 64 were the most affected.
Social media is the most common contact method used by scammers to engage their victims.
However Scamwatch is seeing increasing reports of romance scammers using mobile apps like Tinder, Facebook Messenger and Viber.
Losses reported where the scammer and victim met on an app have increased more than 300 per cent in the past two years.
Romance scammers begin by establishing trust to form a relationship, then start making up stories about needing money to help cover costs associated with illness, injury, business expenses, duty or customs fees, legal costs, family costs, and travel.
The scam can continue for years and Scamwatch receives many heart-breaking stories about the financial and emotional toll they take.
"Finding potential new love is exhilarating but that can make it easy to miss the red flags that point to you falling for a scammer," Ms Rickard said.
"Be careful if someone you don't know makes contact on social media and presents themselves as a too good to be true catch. It's likely they've done some research on you beforehand to find out things about you to create an instant bond.
"On apps, it can be trickier as the whole point is meeting new people. However, nearly all romance scammers will eventually reveal their intentions, which is getting your money. If you've only ever known the person online or through an app, don't give them money. You may think you love them and want to help, but they'll just break your heart, and deplete your bank account," Ms Rickard said.
"It can pay to trust your head over your heart. If you have any doubts about someone you have met online or an app, doing a Google search on their name and pictures can often reveal scammers. Go to Scamwatch.gov.au to learn more about how you can tell if a romance scammer has you in their sights."
Member for Jordan Charis Mullen said although love was in the air at this time of year, the devil could be in the details for those heading online to find romance.
"Though many dating apps are initially free to sign up to, they may then offer increased functionality for a price," Ms Mullen said.
"Before entering into a contract or paying any money, you should always take the time to thoroughly read the associated terms and conditions to ensure you have a clear understanding of the services that will be available to you.
"I would also encourage you to check whether cancelling the service will incur any extra fees or charges.
"Under Australian Consumer Law it is an offence for a business to make a false or misleading claim, or one that is likely to mislead or deceive, such as advertising a service with an incorrect or partial price."
Ms Mullen said that historically, dating apps, websites and social media have provided channels for scammers to exploit users with fake profiles.
"This is a timely reminder that online scams can affect anyone, and it only takes a moment of mistaken trust to turn this romantic time of year into a financially damaging one."
Here are some handy tips to help protect yourself online:
- Be careful about how much personal information you share with strangers.
- Don't open suspicious links, pop-up windows or click on attachments sent by unverified profiles or persons. These could infect your computer with malware.
- Complete an image search through Google to ensure that the person has not simply stolen their profile photo from elsewhere.
- If you agree to meet a romantic prospect in person, always tell your family and friends when and where you are going.
- Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer.
- If you have sent money or shared banking details with someone, contact your financial institution immediately. They may be able to stop or reverse a transaction or close your account.
Any consumer who believes they have been misled by a dating service can lodge a complaint with the Office of Fair Trading and find information on their consumer rights at www.qld.gov.au/fairtrading.
More information on avoiding and reporting a scam is available at www.scamwatch.gov.au or www.qld.gov.au/fairtrading.