Valentine’s Day might be that perfect opportunity for star-crossed lovers around the world to pluck up the courage and share their heartfelt attraction to a potential partner, but it is also an opportunity for heartless thieves to prey on the lonely and vulnerable.
To help protect those looking for love, Crime Stoppers South Australia has joined forces with Police Credit Union to encourage people to be on the lookout for signs that they are being scammed, and what can be done when meeting someone new for the first time.
Crime Stoppers South Australia chair, Ms Sharon Hanlon, said dating should be a fun and safe experience and said the same rules apply whether meeting someone online or in person for the first time.
“It is critical for people to trust their instincts, remember that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, and never, ever get financially involved,” Ms Hanlon said.
“Online dating sites are an increasingly popular option for many looking for love, but it is important to safeguard your privacy and anonymity. Don’t rush into meeting someone offline, and only exchange personal details when you are comfortable to do so,” Ms Hanlon said.
“If you do get to that point where you want to share contact details, consider using a free email service provider such as Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail in preference to a work email address or your surname. The more information you provide, the easier it is for someone to find out more about you via any social media account, online searching, or even contacting your employer under false pretences,” she said.
“It is hard to gauge how many people have actually fallen victims to a love scam because often victims are too embarrassed to come forward. Avoid putting yourself in that position by never sending money or offering financial assistance to someone you’re just getting to know – even if they claim it’s an emergency or promise to pay you back.”
“Dating scammers normally trick their victims into falling in love and then deceitfully take their money. If someone you’ve met online but never met in person asks you for money then alarm bells should be ringing.”
Figures released by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission flagged that it had received 200,000 scam reports in 2016, which saw victims lose almost $300 million, which was a 47 per cent hike on 2015 figures. South Australians accounted for more than 13,000 reports worth around $4 million in losses.
Around 30 per cent of dating and romance scam victims reported were conducted via social media sites, most commonly on Facebook.
Some other safe dating tips include:
- Meet when you are ready – you are not obliged to meet anyone so don’t feel pressured. Regardless of how much communication you’ve had online, take all the time you need to become comfortable with someone before sharing any contact details.
- Talk on the phone – before jumping into a face-to-face meeting, think about having a chat on the phone before you meet – and consider using your mobile instead of sharing your home or work number.
- Pick a safe place – the ideal spot will be in a well-lit public location, with plenty of people around, is easy to get to and where you will feel comfortable. If possible, have your own transport to begin with rather than accepting any offer to be picked up.
- Tell a friend – on the first date, let a trusted friend know where you will be and give them your date’s contact number and name. Think about asking that person to call at a pre-determined time for a safety check-in. If the date is a dud, it makes for a good excuse to cut the date short. Make sure you’ve charged your mobile before heading out.
- Watch your drink – never leave your drink unattended. It is very quick and easy to spike a drink so don’t give anyone that opportunity.
“Always be aware of your surroundings, stay vigilant, and if you feel in danger when on a night out with someone new then move and consider calling for help,” Ms Hanlon said.
If you have any information about criminals or criminal activity then call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or report online at www.crimestopperssa.com.au
People can remain anonymous and rewards are available.