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Grooming scam victims

What is grooming?

Grooming occurs when a scammer tries to build a trusting relationship with you by making regular contact. Groomers aim to extract greater amounts of money or sensitive personal/financial information than they could via a single contact. Scammers will attempt to convince their victim that they are their friend or in some cases, a romantic interest.

Groomers will initially try to gather as much information as possible about you, often via casual conversations over the phone, email, letter, instant messaging, social networking websites, dating websites or chatrooms. They are often very patient and will communicate with you for days, weeks, months or even a year in order to perpetrate the scam.

Scammers use a variety of grooming tactics. In dating and romance scams they will profess strong feelings for you after just a few conversations.  They will then try to appeal to your caring, loving or generous side, asking for money to help overcome a make-believe unfortunate situation.
 
In the case of unexpected prize scams, if you respond to an initial offer, the scammer will groom you by sending more offers. They will keep your hopes alive by promising that your prize/s will arrive soon.  All the time they will make the prize/s sound too good to be true in order to maintain your interest and ongoing payment.

Scammers may also use fear tactics to encourage you to make ongoing payments.  In the case of psychic and clairvoyant scams, the scammer may groom you by warning you of a false future event and then promising to protect you from that event in return for ongoing payments.

Another example of a grooming scam occurs when you fall victim to a scam and provide money. Following payment, you are contacted out of the blue by either the same or another scammer posing as a law enforcement officer or a private investigating body. The scammer will tell you that you have been scammed and will request payment so that the law enforcement body can investigate the scam to try and retrieve the money. Alternatively they may claim that they have caught the initial scammer and that you are entitled to a refund of the money you lost if you first pay an upfront fee.

In many cases, once the scammer has successfully groomed you and gained your trust, they will attempt to alienate and isolate you from your family, friends and colleagues. This is a tactic to make you feel more reliant on the groomer and to remove any interference which others may cause in the scammers plans to defraud you.

Warning signs

  • You are approached by a stranger via phone, email, letter, instant messaging, social networking websites, dating websites or chatrooms and they ask you personal questions during what they want you to believe is casual conversation.
  • If you have met a groomer via an online dating service they will tell you they have strong feelings for you very early in the ‘relationship’.
  • The groomer offers up fake personal information during your conversations in order to gain your trust. They may claim to be in the same situation as you or share similar interests. They may even speak of fake unfortunate events which have befallen them in order to make you feel like helping them.
  • After a period of communicating for days, weeks or months the scammer will request money, gifts or personal, financial or credit card details.

Protect yourself from grooming

  • Consider what personal information you share and post on social/business networking services. Scammers use publicly-available information to identify potential victims to groom. 
  • Don’t accept a social networking friend or follow request from a stranger - the best way to keep scammers out of your life is to never let them in.
  • Where possible, avoid any arrangement with a stranger who asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer. It is rare to recover money sent this way. 
  • If you think you have provided your account details to a groomer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

As well as following these specific tips, find out how to protect yourself from all sorts of other scams.

Report scams

If you think you’ve spotted a scam, report a scam to SCAMwatch or contact the ACCC on 1300 795 995. You should also spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

More information

Check out our dating and romance scams, unexpected ‘prizes’ and psychic and clairvoyant scams pages.  These scams can often involve an element of grooming.

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© Commonwealth of Australia 2014