In life, it’s important build new connections online, possibly leading to a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, there are some who see this as an opportunity to gain your trust so they can steal from you.
Known as romance fraud, more than 4000 Australians reported being a victim in the past year alone, with the average victim losing $19,000.
If you aren’t aware of romance fraud, now is a good time to get familiar with what to look out for to have the best chance to protect yourself.
Romance fraud at a glance
The harsh truth about romance fraud is that scammers are deliberately looking to target those who are vulnerable in some way. This could be due to their age or those who have experienced loss or loneliness.
Contrary to what you might think, the process isn’t as simple as their first interaction involving asking for money. That’s why so many people are easily caught out by fraud. Instead, it’s a subtle game of emotional blackmail that’s played out over a long time, often involving multiple victims.
The fraudster is likely to befriend you, then build up to a romantic relationship. Then they will state they need money urgently for a false reason, such as for medical treatment or because they are about to lose their business. They may even encourage you to purchase fake gift cards or put money into a business that doesn’t exist.
Their tactics are incredibly varied, but sadly share the same goal of trying to scam innocent people out of their hard-earned cash.
Staying safe online
Internet security does not stop at using antivirus protection. A simple Google search (or reverse image search) can usually tell if the person is genuine. If in doubt, block the person and report them to the platform. Make sure you are using the highest privacy settings, and use secure passwords that only you know.
Even though it might feel awkward, it’s always wise to ask a friend or relative for their advice if you’re ever unsure. Listen to your gut instinct – if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.
Don’t be embarrassed to seek help
While we know romance fraud is increasing every year, what we don’t know is the true figure as not all victims come forward.
If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, or if you have already been scammed, you should contact your bank and the police in the first instance. Any screenshots or similar evidence will be helpful in identifying the culprit.
Beyond this stage, a lawyer may be able to help you. It’s important the person is not only identified but is prevented from doing the same to others. That’s why even if you’re embarrassed, you must seek help.
To sum up
Romance fraud robs victims of their money and their confidence. In some instances, the mental damage can be far more severe than the financial loss.
By educating yourself on what to look out for, you are in a better position to stop it happening to you and those around you.
Olivia Jones writes on behalf of Leanne Warren and Associates, one of Melbourne’s largest specialist criminal law firms.
Have your ever fallen for a romance scam?