Thousands of Australians looking for love were scammed last year, with users of dating sites the top target for online scammers in 2013, according to the consumer watchdog.
Figures released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) show a 10 per cent spike in scam reports last year, as well as an alarming rise in phishing and identity theft.
The ACCC Targeting Scams Report said Australians lost $25 million to dating and romance scams, which yielded an average of $21,000 each – some of the highest returns per victim – but only 3 per cent of victims reported scams.
Romance scams accounted for 2777 complaint of the 92,000 complaints received by the consumer watchdog.
The most complained about scam was advance fee-upfront payments, where consumers are typically asked to make a payment with their credit card to access a bogus refund, prize or other kind of reward.
More than 10 per cent of scam victims reported losing more than $10,000.
Who do scammers target?
While scammers target anyone online, people in the 45 to 54 age category are most commonly reporting scams.
And the number of people aged 65-years and over who reported being scammed nearly doubled to 18 per cent.
This trend is in line with shift in recent years counting for 52 per cent of scams delivered via phone and text message, with a combined total financial loss of $29 million.
How they work
Scammers often approach victims through legitimate dating websites or online forums, and they move the communication off the platform and away from any safeguard in place by the site provider.
Scammers may also ask to chat via webcam, secretly film the interaction, and then blackmail victims into handing over money.
They may offer to meet up but never show up.
Scammers may invest months and even years grooming victims into believing that the connection is real.
They may hide behind a profile picture of an attractive person.
Scammers learn about their targets interests and hobbies to show that there are genuine.
Scammers are also expert at pushing people’s emotional buttons.
They may profess their love, send gifts, make promises and propose grand plans for the future.
Once the victims guard is lowered, the scammer will spin an elaborate tale of woe about how they need financial help with a crisis, such as being ill or stranded.
If the victim pays, the scammer will continue to ask for money to them out of other situations.
Scammers often request that the money be sent via wire transfer, as it’s almost impossible to trace.