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Scammers prey on lonely hearts this Valentine’s Day

12 February 2022


Westpac data reveals over $18 million lost to romance scams during the pandemic

Westpac is warning Australians to be wary of secret admirers this Valentine’s Day following an increase in romance scams during the pandemic.

With more people spending time socialising online and isolating at home, new Westpac data has found reported scams have nearly doubled since the start of COVID-19 from customers who have been tricked into sending money to someone posing as a love interest.

According to the data, the annual cost of these scams has almost tripled since the pandemic with customers losing $11.4 million in 2021 compared to $3.9 million in 2019. Overall, more than $18 million has been lost to dating and romance-related scams during the pandemic1.

Westpac Head of Fraud, Ben Young, says the impact of scams has been compounded by Covid restrictions.

“Being physically separated from others can unfortunately make us more vulnerable to scams, lacking an important sounding board to discuss deals or offers that might otherwise appear to be too good to be true.

“Scammers are also becoming remarkably good at exploiting our emotional drivers, which is especially common in romance scams where a lot of time is invested in building a fake relationship or personal connection before asking for money.

“We’ve seen people of all ages impacted by scammers during the pandemic, most commonly being targeted through social media platforms and messaging apps, so it’s important for everyone to take care.

“If you do meet someone new online, be wary if they’ve contacted you unexpectedly and don’t share any mutual connections with you, and never send your money or personal information to someone you’ve never met in person before. It’s also a good idea to talk about any new relationships with a trusted friend or family member,” says Young.

More information about romance scams and how to remain protected is available via the Westpac website.

If you think you might have been scammed, contact your bank immediately. Westpac customers can report scams or suspicious activity at 132 032

Examples of romance scams:

  • They request urgent financial support. They may ask you for money to help with medical bills, airfares or other personal items like a laptop or smartphone. These are often positioned as urgent or needed to help in an emergency.
  • They trick you into doing something illegal. Scammers may manipulate you into carrying out illegal tasks unwittingly. This can include asking you to do tasks that appear usual, like transferring sums of money into bank accounts or delivering goods or packages on their behalf.

What to look out for:

  • They conceal their identity. Scammers often come up with excuses to avoid video calling or meeting in-person – like working on an oil rig or in the military. It’s a good idea to conduct an online search, including a reverse image search, to make sure they are authentic.
  • They admit strong feelings quickly. Be wary about anyone you meet online that wants to become romantically involved and progress your relationship very quickly.
  • They want your personal details. Be cautious about how much personal information you publish on social media, especially dating apps and websites. Never send your details or money to someone you haven’t met in person.

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1 Data as at 31 December 2021.