Romance scammers move to new apps, costing Aussies more than $28.6 million

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Scammers are using new online platforms to take advantage of their victims, with dating and romance scams making up one fifth of losses across all scams reported to Scamwatch in 2019.

Australians reported almost 4,000 dating and romance scams in 2019, with losses of more than $28.6 million, and these numbers will be just the tip of the iceberg. Around 37.5 per cent of reports resulted in a loss, with an average loss of more than $19,000.

Beyond traditional online dating websites, the highest losses were from romance scams originating on Instagram and Facebook. Conventional dating platforms, such as Tinder or Match.com, also had high losses.

A new trend emerging in 2019 was scammers increasingly turning to apps like Google Hangouts, or online games such as Words with Friends and Scrabble to con their victims.

“We’ve seen an increase in reports from people who did not originally seek an online relationship but have been caught up in a dating and romance scam,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“No longer are dating websites the only contact method for dating and romance scams, with an increasing number of reports coming from these emerging websites and apps.”

“Romance scams are particularly devastating because not only are there financial losses, but there is also an emotional toll for the victim, which can have lasting psychological impacts on people,” Ms Rickard said.

Scammers try to make their target fall in love with the persona they have created and quickly profess their love for the victim.

They will normally weave complicated stories about why they can’t meet in person and ask the victim to send money or provide financial aid so they can travel to meet them.

While less common, there have also been instances of scammers meeting their victim in person and requesting money.

If the person sends money, the scammer will ask for more, and if they don’t, the scammer may become aggressive or use guilt to manipulate their victim.

“If you’re interacting with someone online, it’s important to be alert and consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam,” Ms Rickard said.

“Don’t give out personal information, including your financial details, to anybody you haven’t met in person, no matter who they say they are, and don’t share intimate photos or use webcams in an intimate setting.”

“Don’t agree to carry packages internationally or agree to transfer money for someone else as you may be inadvertently committing a crime.”

“If you become concerned by the conversation, such as if the person is asking for ‘favours’ or money, cease communication,” Ms Rickard said.

People who think they may have provided their banking details to a scammer should contact their bank or financial institution as soon as possible.

They can also report a scam to the ACCC through Scamwatch, which offers further information on where to get help, and how to protect yourself from scams.

Facts and figures:

  • 31.4 per cent of dating and romance scams occurred via social media and online forums.
  • The highest losses (over 33 per cent or $9.1 million) occurred via social media.
    • Instagram was the most common social media website totalling 8.8 per cent of dating and romance scam reports.
    • Facebook was the social media website that incurred the highest losses totalling 7.3 per cent of all losses.
  • People aged 45–64 were most affected with 1470 reports and over $18 million in losses. This represents 63 per cent of total losses to dating and romance scams.
  • Women reported 54.9 per cent (2165 reports) of all dating and romance scam reports, with the remainder 43.3 per cent (1707 reports) made by men, and 1.8 per cent (74 reports) did not specify gender.
  • Women reported the highest total losses of $21.5 million (75.3 per cent of all losses). Men reported $7 million or 24.6 per cent of the total losses.
  • The majority of losses occurred via bank transfer, totalling 33.8 per cent or almost $9.7 million. This was followed by ‘other payment’ method such as iTunes, Steam and Google Play gift cards, which totalled $8.8 million or 30.8 per cent of all losses.

Dating and romance scams by most common websites/apps in 2019

Website/app

Reports

Losses

Other

849

$6,215,601

Online dating site

665

$7,832,089

Instagram

347

$975,925

Facebook

325

$2,077,224

Tinder

176

$814,415

Skype

90

$757,580

Viber

23

$909,359

LinkedIn

21

$130,000

Twitter

16

$5,820

eBay

2

$1,082


Top 12 social networking/websites/apps mentioned under ‘other’ in 2019

Website/Platform

Reports

Losses

Plenty of Fish

230

$714 439

Google Hangouts

142

$640 973

Zoosk

70

$555 319

Match.com

50

$856 650

Words with Friends

38

$598 075

Kik

33

$87 375

eHarmony

24

$663 245

Badoo

22

$587 974

Bumble

19

$38 000

Facebook/Messenger

18

$393 000

Snapchat

10

$1678

Instagram

8

$800

Read more

Scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective companions. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details.