The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has warned those seeking love online that scammers may prey on their vulnerability, especially during sentimental times like Valentine's Day.
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said the group had recorded 2,770 reports of dating and romance scams. For 2013, there had been a total $25.3 million loss due to scammers online. More than 400 people lost $10,000 while 64 victims lost over $10,000.
"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," Rickard said.
She advised to cut ties immediately if the person you met online requests for money via wire transfer. Wire transfer had been commonly used by scammers and those victimized ended up with an empty pocket and a broken heart.
Scammers can also be a threat to the person's safety as most of them are members of large international criminal groups. There had been cases when scammers lured Australians to travel overseas ending in tragedies.
"If you are meeting locally in person, choose a public place and let family or friends know where you are at all times. Before taking that next step, run a Google image search using any photos provided by someone you met online as they may have been used in various profiles and could be a stolen identity. It's quick and easy and could save you time, money and heartache," Rickard warned.
How the Love Scam Works
- You meet someone online through a dating or social networking Web site whom you seem to just 'connect' with.
- The person may have an appealing profile, claims to have similar likes and dislikes or have gone through similar experiences.
- Your online admirer will soon ask you to communicate through a private channel via email or webcam.
- After you have established rapport, they will ask you money to help cover costs associated with illness, injury, a family crisis or travel to see them.
- Alternatively, your admirer will secretly film a webcam chat between you and them, and then try to blackmail you into handing over money in exchange for the footage being kept private.
- Regardless of the approach, the scammer will typically ask you to send them the money via wire transfer.
- If you send them money, they will continue to ask for it to get you caught in other problems or will withhold the footage. Initially, the amount of money requested may be small but tend to increase over time.
- If you send money to a scammer, especially via a wire transfer, it is almost certainly gone forever. Essentially, your heart may be broken and trust shattered.
Scam Watch Tips
- Keep your personal details privare. Never share personal data or photos with someone you don't know, especially photos or webcam of a private nature. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using this material to blackmail victims.
- Watch out if an online admirer asks to communicate with you outside the dating website, such as through a private email address or over the phone. Be wary and they could try avoiding detection.
- Search: Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided. Scammers often use fake photos online.
- Think twice: Never send money to someone you've met online, especially via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer. It's rare to recover money sent through this.
- Report if you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
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