Enjoy Valentine’s Day safely: Tips to dodge romance scams and protect your heart and wallet

Feb 09, 2024
In matters of love, it's important to stay vigilant, stay informed, and safeguard both your heart and your wallet. Source: Getty Images.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, love is well and truly in the air, and unfortunately, so too are malicious romance scams.

With this in mind, the National Anti-Scam Centre is warning those looking for love online to beware of financial criminals luring them into investment scams.

Romance baiting scams cause significant emotional and financial harm to Australians, with Scamwatch receiving 484 reports of this scam in 2023. Despite overall losses nearly halving in the past year, reports to Scamwatch show that more than $40 million was lost to romance-baiting scams in 2023.

While a romance scammer may draw you in with sweet nothings and loving messages, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe reminds the public that “scammers are cold-hearted criminals who are looking to exploit people’s emotions in order to take their money.”

“We are urging people to not take financial or investment advice from someone you have only met online,” Lowe stressed.

“Even if you think you know who you are messaging, remember that it could be a scammer on the other side of the screen.

“These scammers will spend weeks, even months, messaging their victim, making them feel like they’ve formed a genuine connection before shifting the conversation to investment or cryptocurrency opportunities.

“Ultimately, these ‘opportunities’ turn out to be investment scams, leaving the victim not only broken hearted but out of pocket by significant amounts of money.”

Australians aged over 55 years old suffered the highest individual losses to romance baiting scams in 2023.

“While the decline in annual losses indicates that co-ordination between government and industry is increasing community awareness and disrupting scammers, we are concerned that people are still losing an alarming amount of money to romance baiting scams,” Lowe said.

“Online dating and social media connection is a common way to meet new people, but it also presents an opportunity for scammers to deceive people and take advantage of their trust.

“We are working closely with law enforcement to combat these scams and protect the public.”

So how do these scams operate and what do those searching for love need to be on the lookout for?

The encounter often begins in the digital realm of dating apps, websites, or even social media, where the victim and the scammer first connect. After some initial exchanges, the scammer suggests shiting the conversation to a secure, encrypted messaging platform like Google Hangouts, WeChat, Line, or WhatsApp.

Over time, the scammer employs a tactic known as “love bombing”, intensifying contact with the victim, and expressing affection multiple times a day. As trust deepens, the scammer shifts gears to discuss lucrative investment opportunities, often centered around cryptocurrency.

Attempting to demonstrate the simplicity of the investment process, the scammer pressures the victim into transferring a modest sum of money. Initial interactions may create an illusion of profitability, encouraging victims to reinvest. The plot thickens as the scammer coaxes victims to “top up” their accounts or maintain a specific balance, warning of frozen funds and imminent losses otherwise.

The scam reaches its unfortunate conclusion when the victim either exhausts their financial resources or refuses further investment. The scammer, at this point, might vanish, cutting all ties, or take a more brazen approach by demanding additional investments to access supposed profits.

In the aftermath, the victim not only faces a substantial financial setback but also experiences the loss of the relationship they believed was blossoming. It’s a cautionary tale of digital deception, where matters of the heart intertwine with financial peril.

In order to ensure a secure Valentine’s Day and to make sure your pursuits in love are not wasted, the National Anti-Scam Centre suggests the following precautionary measures.

STOP – Don’t give personal information or act on investment advice from someone you have only met online. Don’t feel pressured to invest. If you have any doubts, stop communicating with them.

THINK – Ask yourself if you really know who you are communicating with? Scammers can use different profile pictures and lie about who they really are, especially online. Do an internet search of the person’s name or photo to see if it’s a scam.

PROTECT – Act quickly if something feels wrong. Contact your bank immediately if you have invested money. Help others by reporting scams to Scamwatch.

As Valentine’s Day draws near, let love fill the air, but be sure to keep your heart guarded.

In the world of online connections, where romance and finance intertwine, remember: in matters of love, stay vigilant, stay informed, and safeguard both your heart and your wallet.

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