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Sunday, 09 February 2020 23:14

Australians lose more than $28.6 million to online romance scams Featured

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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 amounting to millions of dollars, across all scams reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch service in 2019.

According to the report, Australians reported almost 4,000 dating and romance scams in 2019, with losses of more than $28.6 million, and Scamwatch says these numbers will be just the tip of the iceberg.

And around 37.5% 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 - while conventional dating platforms, such as Tinder or Match.com, also had high losses.

Scamwatch says 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,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (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,” Rickard warned.

“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.”

The Scamwach report reveals that 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,” Scamwatch notes.

“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.

Scamwatch warned:

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

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

The ACCC says that if people who think they may have provided their banking details to a scammer should contact their bank or financial institution as soon as possible - and 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.

Here’s the facts and figures on romance scams:

  • 31.4% of dating and romance scams occurred via social media and online forums.
  • The highest losses (over 33% or $9.1 million) occurred via social media.
  • Instagram was the most common social media website totalling 8.8% of dating and romance scam reports.
  • Facebook was the social media website that incurred the highest losses totalling 7.3% of all losses.
  • People aged 45–64 were most affected with 1470 reports and over $18 million in losses. This represents 63% of total losses to dating and romance scams.
  • Women reported 54.9% (2165 reports) of all dating and romance scam reports, with the remainder 43.3% (1707 reports) made by men, and 1.8% (74 reports) did not specify gender.
  • Women reported the highest total losses of $21.5 million (75.3% of all losses). Men reported $7 million or 24.6% of the total losses.
  • The majority of losses occurred via bank transfer, totalling 33.8% 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% of all losses.

 

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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