Meeting people online can be exciting, and opens up a world of new partner opportunities. But knowing who’s behind the promise of a beautiful relationship is harder than it used to be, increasing the risk of romance scams.
A growing number of Australians are being tricked into sending money to fake admirers, according to Westpac’s latest scam report. The report showed the cost of romance scams increased 26 per cent in 2022 and has quadrupled since 2020.
Scammers have been preying on those looking for love since long before the internet’s creation, but like most scams, their methods evolve over time as new technologies or ideas present themselves.
Romance scammers are usually very patient and are happy to play the long game before asking for money. By then the victim is totally smitten, so spotting the scam gets even harder. Many of these scammers do this as a full-time job and have many victims on the go at once, so they’ve got no problem messaging back and forth every single day for months on end.
Here are a few important points to remember when it comes to romance scams, and some of new tricks that scammers have in their arsenal:
1. Some scammers are on dating sites, but not all of them. Some will approach potential victims on innocent platforms that are not at all about dating, precisely because it makes them look like less of a fraudster. It makes the relationship seem as though it occurred more naturally.
2. Scammers will often reuse photos that bring them the most success and tend to avoid video or voice calls. People who are more shy may not be put-off by a text and photo-only conversation as it suits their less confrontational style, but this is a huge red flag. Remember, without a face-to-face or at least a solid video chat, it is all but impossible to know if anyone is who they claim to be.
3. If you have been sent only still images, there are services like Google Image Search that allow a ‘reverse image lookup’ to help find out where a picture has come from. The tool scours the internet and lets you know the origin of the photos being shared - this simple search can unmask many romance scammers.
4. A request for money for medical, travel or business emergencies remain common stories. Many romance scam victims are also used to illegally transfer stolen funds from other victims, so don’t agree to send your own money or agree to receive a transfer and on-forward anyone else’s money unless you have met them.
5. Another common crime lately, particularly for younger victims, is to ask for compromising images, which the scammer will then immediately threaten to make public unless you pay a ransom to keep them supressed.
Finding love online is a wonderful thing, but just as you keep your radar tuned for bad soulmates, carefully scrutinising those that seem too good to be true can save you a whole world of trouble.
For more information about the latest scams, go to Westpac's Latest Scams & Alerts Info.