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IT is the month of love but also unfortunately for some Canberrans heartbreak – as Valentine’s Day coincides with a spike in romance scams.
We see it play out time and time again as people fall victim to romance scams. These days, it is most often after meeting a potential partner online and social media.
So how do people fall for such romantic ruses?
Well, it can start simple enough with profiles of the would-be scammers appearing realistic and the information shared seemingly legitimate. Scammers often do their homework and research their victims’ online profiles, liking the same activities or sharing interests to gain trust. In many cases phone calls are even exchanged between scammer and victim.
Then comes an inevitable request for money with promises of repayment. Often it can be a series of small sums requested that add up quickly in amounts or frequency.
Or it can be a significant sum – into the thousands requested – to cover a fictional “accident” or unforeseen expense, such as the scammer supporting a “sick relative” or “losing their job”. They may also seek the funds to “visit” the victim if the scammer lives overseas.
However, no sooner is the deposit made, the romantic Romeo or Juliet are not heard from again.
Last year it is estimated that Australians lost $20.2 million in dating and romance scams, with most scammers targeting their victims on social media, by email or online websites.
People over the age of 45 are often the prime targets and those aged over 55 years often have the greatest financial loss.
The real cost and frequency of such incidents are hard to know as victims can feel embarrassed or ashamed. Often they don’t even tell their close friends or family and it can have a significant impact on their personal finances but also their life.
So how can you protect your heart and wallet? Firstly the old adage “if it sounds too good to be true” is a good place to start. Be cautious with the level of information you provide including on social media profiles.
Do some social sleuthing if your potential partner provides a photo – you can quickly do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. This can help you identify if the image has been taken from someone else, or belongs to a few people with different names. (How? Click on the camera icon on Google Images on the desktop version of the site’s search bar).
Be wary if someone starts with a claim that they are working/living overseas because of a family situation and that there is a reason that they cannot travel to Australia right now. Also anyone who asks you for money. This can happen within days, weeks or months of meeting someone online. Never transfer money via direct deposit, money order or international transfer.
If you have been scammed report it to Scam Watch (scamwatch.gov.au). You can also contact Access Canberra. By reporting such incidents we can track and understand further the impacts of such scams on our community.
More information at act.gov.au/fairtrading
David Snowden is the ACT Fair Trading commissioner.