Valentine’s Day scams - a warning to lonely hearts
Published Friday, 12 February, 2021 at 04:25 PM
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence
The Honourable Shannon Fentiman
Single Queenslanders have been cautioned to be wary this Valentine’s Day as romance scams are still one of the leading causes of financial loss affecting the community.
“People are often at their most vulnerable when they are looking for love and this makes them more susceptible to scammers around Valentine’s Day,” said Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Shannon Fentiman.
“Dating and romance scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective companions.
“They play on emotional triggers and express strong emotions in a relatively short time, including declaring their love very early on in the relationship. “They will then spend many months grooming their victims before persuading them to provide money, gifts, bank details or other personal details.
In 2020, according to Scamwatch over 590 Queenslanders reported losing more than $9.4 million to dating and romance scammers but that figure is likely to be just the start of the lonely-hearts club, because many people who are scammed don’t report it.
“COVID also gave a new twist to the rise in online romance and dating scams in 2020. Scammers were especially brazen about adapting to the pandemic situation and then using it to work on the vulnerabilities of those looking for love,” said Ms Fentiman.
“Scammers used the pandemic as an excuse for why they couldn’t see their victims in person. They had excuses about being stuck overseas or in quarantine and due the virus they needed help with money to buy medical care, food and other supplies.
“Queenslanders are also reminded to stay vigilant to romance scams involving cryptocurrency-related fraud following a rise in complaints in 2020 where the contact started on online dating platforms.”
Romance scams can be devastating both emotionally and financially. One of the biggest cases of romance fraud in Australia was reported to Scamwatch in 2019. In that case a middle-aged woman from Queensland lost $2.8 million to a man she met through an online matchmaking service.
He advised her to refinance her property, to set up a line of credit against the property, and to establish a self-managed superannuation fund that he oversaw. The victim didn’t have a lot of experience in financial matters and believed that he was acting in her best interests.
This led to financial stress that ultimately meant the victim had to sell her home. He then wanted access to the money following the sale.
“There was consistent pressure for me to follow his recommendations, which I did for seven years in the name of love and I lost $2.8 million,” the woman[i] said.
The Office of Fair Trading has further tips to protect yourself from romance scams. Always be cautious of:
- people you meet online with whom relationships develop very quickly
- photos that look too good to be true – always check online to see if the photo or name of a person has been used elsewhere
- people asking you to send them money if you haven’t met them in person
- someone who tries to move communications away from the dating website or app to another platform like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or email
- people who claim to be stuck overseas or are based away in the armed forces
- sharing your personal pictures or videos as scammers are known to blackmail their victims using compromising material.
If you or someone you know has been scammed:
- stop all contact with the scammer and block them
- report the matter to the police via ReportCyber www.cyber.gov.au/report and to Scamwatch via www.scamwatch.gov.au
- notify your bank immediately if you have been scammed of money
- notify the relevant social media or dating platform
- secure your accounts by changing passwords for your online accounts and bank accounts and review your privacy and security settings.
For more information on dating and romance scams, visit Scamwatch.
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[i] To remain anonymous