Romance scams, sometimes called dating scams are when scammers take advantage of people searching for a potential partner. These scams are often devastating for the victim, both financially and emotionally. Contact is usually made via social media phone apps but can also include contact made via email and phone messaging.
The scam usually operates by creating a fake social media online profile, often using fake names and images to lure in victims. They may contact you or wait until you or someone else messages them. Their profile images are often stolen images from online model catalogues or other people’s social media profiles. Often the images are of attractive people but this is not always the case. The profiles will regularly use images of military personal or other trusted professionals. They will often say that they are an Australian (or a citizen of another western country) currently working overseas as this allows them to avoid many questions about their day-to-day activities.
These scammers will sometimes invest considerable amounts of time and effort messaging or texting you. They tend to declare their love and interest very quickly and will often target people much older than their apparent age. These scammers are also often highly skilled manipulators that know how to quickly convince you that they are genuine and sincere.
Their tendency to try and connect quickly with you may be your first indication that something is not right. Their long term objective is to make you emotionally tied to them, to the point that you can be manipulated to provide money, gifts or personal details including bank account and credit card details. Requests for money are usually presented as some kind of personal emergency to ensure that you do not have time to consider the situation.
Some romance scammers ask for unusual favours after a period of time. These can include asking for you to receive a package of theirs from overseas and resending it on to another address. This may involve illegal substances so never agree to this. They may also request that you accept money being deposited into your bank account to be forwarded onto another bank account for them. This is money laundering and is a criminal offence. These scams may also involve you handing over personal information that may lead to identity theft.
Australians lost over 24 million dollars to romance scams in 2018, although this is only a small percentage of the real loss incurred. Many romance scams go unreported to ScamWatch or Police because their victims often feel embarrassment. Never feel embarrassed as romance scammers can be highly skilled manipulators with considerable experience.
Report all scams to ScamWatch at: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/
If you have incurred a financial loss report it also to your local Police. Please also let us know about the scam here at NT Consumer Affairs on (08) 8999 1999 or 1800 019 319 or at email@example.com so that we can warn others.
Romance scams can vary greatly but here are some of the warning signs to look out for. Remember that you may be able to spot a romance scam easily but be sure to discuss this form of scam with family and friends. Scammers often target people that are vulnerable or people that are going through a vulnerable period of their life.
- You meet someone online and there are inconsistencies in their personal story over time.
- They claim to be from a western country however their English skills do not reflect this.
- Their profile images look different to the ones they send to you later on.
- The online activity is not consistent with the time zone they claim to be currently living in. They appear to be constantly texting late into the night.
- Your online chatting has escalated unusually quickly from your first contact. They often declare a strong connection with you and try to develop the relationship rapidly.
- After a period of time they begin to ask for money, often claiming a personal emergency. They may repeatedly ask for more money.
- They will often create elaborate excuses why you cannot meet face-to-face.
How to Protect Yourself
The best way to protect yourself is to never 100% trust someone you have yet to meet. Always look for inconsistences in their stories and do not be scared to just walk away from a conversation if anything doesn’t feel right.
- Never, ever send money to someone you have not met in person. Never give personal information, especially banking information as well.
- Be aware of romance scams and be on the lookout for any indication that you a texting with a scammer.
- Save the images they send you and reverse image search them through Google. They may well be using images available online to gain your confidence.
- Beware of continual poor spelling and grammatical errors, especially if they claim to be from an English speaking country.
- Never agree to transfer money for someone else.
- Never agree to accept packages from someone you have never met and never agree to forward them on either.
- Be very careful about the personal information you share online. Always set your social media profiles on the highest security settings.