Swipe left and avoid the Valentine’s Day swindlers
Posted on 11/02/2022
As plenty of South Australians cross their fingers and hope to find love this Valentine’s Day, Crime Stoppers SA has partnered with Police Credit Union to remind people looking for ‘the one’ to be on the lookout for heartless scammers who only want to break your heart and savings.
Crime Stoppers SA CEO, Nigel Smart, said there was a 44% increase in financial losses to romance scams in 2021, with Australians losing a whopping $56 million according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch.
“Dating and romance scams are very destructive – both financially and emotionally – which is why someone looking for love needs to be on the lookout for signs that they are actually being taken advantage of,” Mr Smart said.
“We know scammers often approach a victim through legitimate dating websites before attempting to move the ‘relationship’ away from the safeguards these sites have in place; and turn to communicating through email, phone or other options where they can more easily manipulate a victim,” he said.
“The scammer’s objective is to emotionally exploit a victim to take their money. They go to great lengths to develop a strong connection before making a play for money, often with a sob story about needing to cover costs associated with a supposed illness, injury, family crisis, travel or to pursue a business or investment opportunity.”
It is also common for a scammer to target a victim through social networking sites, by ‘liking’ them and then duping someone into believing they share common interests based on personal information that has been sourced from the victim’s own profile.
Police Credit Union CEO, Costa Anastasiou said it is hard to accurately understand how many people have fallen victim to a romance scam because often victims are too embarrassed to come forward.
“Our advice is to avoid putting yourself in a vulnerable 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 and promise to pay you back,” he said.
“If someone you’ve met online but never met in person asks you to loan or gift them money then alarm bells should be ringing and you should stop communicating with them before it is too late.”
Some ways that can prevent becoming a victim of a romance scam include:
- Protect your personal details: Never share personal information or photos with someone you don’t know and trust – especially photos or webcam calls of a private nature. Scammers can use this material to blackmail a victim.
- Be wary: If a potential online love interest wants to communicate outside a dating website it might be because they are trying to avoid detection. If you plan on meeting someone in person for the first time, then choose a public place and let family or friends know where you are.
- Surf and search: Scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online, so a Google Image search is a good way to check the authenticity of any photos they provide.
- Think twice: Never send money to someone you’ve met online, especially via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer, because it is rare to recover money that has been sent this way.
- Report quickly: If you think you may have unwittingly provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately so they can freeze your account and take action.
- Regularly monitor your accounts: use Online Banking or your Banking App to track transactions. This will help to quickly detect any suspicious activity. Contact your financial institution immediately if you see something that doesn’t seem right.
Some recent South Australian real-life victims include:
A 74-year-old female met her scammer via a dating site and was soon encouraged to move to email and whatsapp, a smartphone messaging app. The scammer said he was originally from Adelaide and planned to move back after working overseas. He said his return had been delayed by the pandemic. He then claimed his wallet was stolen and could not access his bank accounts to pay living expenses and permit fines of $10,700. He asked to borrow money with a promise to pay it back within weeks. The victim loaned the scammer $3,700, which was never recovered. The victim was made aware of the scam once the scammer cut off communication.
A 42-year-old female fell victim to a money laundering scam, which saw her unwittingly launder nearly $9,000. The scammer used her account to deposit funds from a range of other accounts and those funds were immediately moved into a cryptocurrency exchange. The transactions were spotted by her bank, the account frozen and the victim self-reported the matter to police for investigation.
A 51-year-old male fell victim to a romance scam, which saw the scammer walk away with more than $10,000. It was only after suspicious transaction activity was spotted by his bank that stopped a further $2,900 in potential losses by pausing several transactions for review. In this case, the victim was so convinced that it was a case of true love that it was difficult for them to initially acknowledge anything suspicious.
If you have any information about a scammer then you can contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a tip online.
You can also report a scam to ScamWatch.
If you believe you have become a victim of a scam, notify your bank or financial institution immediately and contact police.