Looking for love online? You’re just as likely to become locked into an onerous dating website contract, or worse, hooked by international romance scam.
The consumer watchdog is warning Australians to check the fine print and be alert for fake dating profiles after a surge in complaints about online matchmaking websites.
Some have adopted hard-to-exit contracts with high fees, while those with loose sign-up requirements have become a hotbed for scammers, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says.
“So far this year we’ve had about 1700 complaints and we’ve had over $17 million reported to us in losses,” ACCC deputy chairwoman Delia Rickard said.
“Last year we had over $25 million in losses. “People are lonely, they’re looking for love and are open for exploitation.”
Dos and dont’s of dating online
* Never send money to people they have only met online
* Treat any request for money as a red flag for a romance scam
* Do background research to ensure a dating website is legitimate
* Read all terms and conditions of “free trials”, including termination fees
* Ask friends if they have had a positive experience with a dating website
* Hold first dates in a public place, and tell a friend they are going.
The ACCC on Monday conducted a snap review of 100 dating websites to identify those with onerous terms and conditions and to check if they carried appropriate warnings about scams.
Ms Rickard said scammers commonly posed on dating websites as Australian or American businesspeople, soldiers or aid workers on an overseas posting.
Their besotted victims – who they regularly contact via phone and email – receive a “traditional, old-fashioned wooing” over months, including being given flowers and gifts.
The scammer then uses elaborate scenarios to ask for escalating amounts of cash.
“A really typical example is someone saying, ‘I can’t wait to see you my love but I can’t access my funds at the moment. Could you send me the money for the airfare and I’ll pay you back as soon as I get there?’,” Ms Rickard said.
“Of course they never come, and then there’s excuse after excuse.”
Ms Rickard said the ACCC monitored international money transfers from Australia and made contact with people suspected of having become ensnared in a romance scam.
The ACCC will also contact dating websites that need improvement, or court action could follow.
The review was part of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network annual internet sweep, which involved more than 50 consumer protection agencies.