February 14 is upon us. Another Valentine’s Day is here. But while picking the restaurant and movie for your date, or ordering the long-stem roses, make sure you don’t fall victim to a romance scam – like 2,620 Australians did in 2015, costing them almost $23 million.

Scammers Get Social

Valentine’s Day focuses on that universal and powerful trait of humanity: the desire to love and be loved. Many will celebrate Valentine’s Day with someone special – our spouse, friends or pets. For others, Valentine’s Day is a painful reminder of a bad track record when it comes to relationships. It’s times like these when some may be tempted to find comfort in the increasing number of social media platforms aimed at helping us find love.

But a recent press release from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has warned that a large number of scams relating to love and romance originate on social media platforms and dating sites. Almost one-quarter of romance scams start on social media – and apparently Facebook is a particular hot-spot for fraudulent lotharios.

In response to this trend, the ACCC is hoping to work with social media platforms to shield users from scammers – including by updating its Best practice guidelines for dating sites.

Relationship Breakdown

In its press release, the ACCC also released facts and figures about dating and romance scams in Australia. The data was collected based on scams reported to Scamwatch in 2015. Scamwatch is an initiative run by the ACCC, which helps consumers and small businesses to identify and protect themselves from scams.

Of the 2,620 romance scams reported to Scamwatch, 32.9% of people reported losing money as a result of the scam, for a total loss of $22.7 million. That puts average losses at around $8,600. The good news is that the total loss from romance scams had dropped considerably from a recent peak of $27.9 million in 2014.

Regarding the favourite platforms used by scammers, about one-quarter of reports related to each of the internet, email and social media. Around 14% of scams were over the phone, text message or mobile apps collectively.

Unsurprisingly, given its larger population, NSW was the hardest hit by deceptive Casanovas, accounting for 25% of reports and sustaining almost a third of all losses. Queensland was the next worst affected, with 22% of both reports and losses. You are safest from scams in the ACT, which had only 2% of reports and losses. I guess it’s harder to mix politics and love – even fake love.

The prime targets of romance scams were aged between 55 and 64. These mid-lifers lodged only 20% of reports but endured almost two times the portion of financial losses (37%). The bracket below (aged 45 to 54) were slightly more gullible to start with (28% of reports) but managed to get out of scams before too much damage was done (25% of losses).

Thankfully, young love lives on, with under-18s accounting for only 1% of reports and no losses.

Tips for Those Out of Love

Next February 14, Scamwatch will probably be counting the numbers of all the love-lost victims of romance scams in 2016. So, how do you make sure you don’t form part of the data?

Scamwatch provides some useful information on dating and romance scams. It also offers these tips (with some LegalVision editorial changes, of course):

  • Don’t provide bank details or send funds to a lover you met online.
  • Use Google’s image search to verify the authenticity of any photos sent by your online soul-mate.
  • Just like the sleazy guy at the bar, resist the temptation when asked if you would like to go somewhere else. As Scamwatch observes, fraudsters prefer to correspond outside of social media channels to avoid detection.
  • Don’t share private photos or videos. Obviously. Some scammers may use these photos to blackmail victims.
  • If you have been scammed, contact your bank and report it to Scamwatch.

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Whether you are looking for love* or legal advice, we can help. Talk to one of our consumer lawyers if you think you have been scammed in your search for romance.

*Disclaimer: LegalVision is unlikely to assist with anyone looking for love. We’re lawyers – we are still looking ourselves.

Thomas Kaldor

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