Your friend has met their new partner online, but the facts aren’t adding up?

While there are many success stories of people who’ve met through a dating website or on social media and fallen in love, there are increasingly those who are victimised by online scammers, leaving them heartbroken with a financial loss.

In 2020, Australians reported to Scamwatch losses of more than $38 million as a result of romance scams. Consumer protection agencies across Australia are reminding people of the warning signs and characteristics of scammers. In 2020, the highest amount of losses was via social media platforms, reminding consumers not to be complacent and that victims aren’t just those who are actively seeking a partner, it could you, your friend or family member.

Scammers can spend many months sending messages declaring their love and building up trust with a person before they ask for money. Scam victims sometimes send money because they feel the need for funds is genuine and are prepared to invest in the ‘relationship’, or they might send money towards an airfare believing that the love-interest will come and see them.

But while the victim is feeling loved-up, the scammer ends up being cashed-up.

Here are some tips and warning signs to consider if you’ve heard about a friend’s online romance.

  • Before you let someone know you’re interested in them, do some checks. Do a Google Image search or TinEye reverse image search to check if their profile is legitimate.
  • Be wary if the person you’ve met online quickly wants to move communications away from the dating website or app. For example, they might want to communicate with you by email, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp or Viber.
  • After gaining your trust over time they ask you to send money. They might say their money is stuck in a legal problem or they have a sick relative and they need money to cover the medical costs.
  • If there’s no way that you can meet them in person or they are always unavailable for a video call, and they make excuses about why they can’t travel to see you and require funds, then it could be a scam.
  • If you don’t send money straight away, their messages and calls become more desperate, persistent or direct. If you do send money, they continue to ask you to send more.

Ensure your friend or family member are protecting themselves if they are participating in this relationship online. Remind them to be careful about the personal information that they share. Many romance scam victims not only lose money, but they also experience fraud – e.g. they discover that new mobile phone accounts have been set up in their name, or the scammer has accessed their superannuation account.

They should also avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way in the event it is a scam.

If they’ve already given their bank account details to a scammer, advise them to contact the bank or financial institution to stop any further losses.

Contact IDCARE if you, or someone you know has fallen victim to identity theft. It’s important to act quickly to reduce any potential for further damage. IDCARE is a free government-funded service which will work with you to develop a specific response plan to your situation and support you through the process. Visit www.idcare.org or call 1300 IDCARE (432273).

Report scams to the national Scamwatch service at https://scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam

For more information visit https://consumeraffairs.nt.gov.au/for-consumers/scams/romance-scams