The ACCC has warned Australians not to give their personal details out over the internet as the incidence of romance scams rises.
All is not necessarily fair in love. The ACCC received 2770 reports of romance scams for the year of 2013, and a loss of AU$25.3 million. This is an increase of 13.6 per cent on the number of scams and AU$2 million in losses from 2012. A massive 43 per cent of people who encounter romance scams lost money, one of the highest loss rates of any kind of scam.
A romance scam is when a scammer gets close to the target and plays on their emotions to get the target to give cash, gifts and personal details. They usually occur over dating websites, and most scammers claim to be Australians living overseas, to give a plausible reason why they can't meet up. The scammer will sometimes spend a period of months getting close to the target and obtaining their trust, often telling sob stories to gain sympathy — and money.
"Scammers go to great lengths to gain your trust, spending months and even years building a relationship with you. Once your defences are lowered, they spin an elaborate tale about how they need your financial help with a crisis, such as being ill or stranded and ask for money," said ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.
"Alarm bells should go off if they request money, especially via wire transfer. This payment method is popular with scammers as it is almost impossible to trace and it is rare to recover money sent this way. Sadly, most of the people who fall victims to dating and romance scams sent wire transfers right into the hands of scammers, who then disappeared or asked for more money, leaving the victim with an empty pocket and a broken heart."
There are a few warning signs you can watch out for. Firstly, you can use Google reverse image search to see if the user's profile picture is stolen. Be wary of taking the conversation to private email, and be especially wary if they decline to meet in person — or, if they do agree to meet in person but keep postponing.
Never, ever hand out bank details or personal information, and be extremely cautious about sending money to someone you've never met, especially via wire transfer, money order or international funds transfer. If you really want to send money, talk to someone first. Sometimes just saying what you intend to do out loud can clarify it. Scammers will, the ACCC said, get more desperate and persistent if you don't send money straight away.
Finally, if you feel that you have been the target of a scam, contact your bank and the ACCC straight away.
You can read more tips on the ACCC Scamwatch website.