Australians reported nearly 4,000 online dating and romance scams in 2019 with more than a third resulting in a direct financial loss, according to new data from the consumer watchdog, which suggests scammers are increasingly taking to social media. 

The total known amount lost to the scams is more than $28.6 million but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission yesterday warned the figure was “the tip of the iceberg”.

Around 37.5 per cent of the scams that are reported resulted in a loss, with an average loss of more than $19,000. Dating and romance scams account for one fifth of all losses reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch tool in 2019.

Women are three times more likely to be the victim of financial loss through a dating scam, according to the latest data. 

People aged 45–64 were most affected by romance scams with 1,470 reports and over $18 million in losses, around 63 per cent of the total.

There were 665 reported scams on online dating sites, 347 on Instagram, and 325 on Facebook. There were over $2 million in losses reported from romance scams on Facebook alone last year.

Traditional dating platforms like Tinder and Match.com also have a significant scam problem, according to the regulator.

Source: Scamwatch/ACCC.gov.au

Scammers on the move

A new trend last year was the move of romance scammers into gaming and meeting apps like Words With Friends or Google Hangout, the ACCC said.

“We’ve seen an increase in reports from people who did not originally seek an online relationship but have been caught up in a dating and romance scam,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“No longer are dating websites the only contact method for dating and romance scams, with an increasing number of reports coming from these emerging websites and apps.”

“Romance scams are particularly devastating because not only are there financial losses, but there is also an emotional toll for the victim, which can have lasting psychological impacts on people,” Rickard said.

The ACCC is warning Australians that scammers will typically try to make a target fall in love with them without any face to face contact, then ask for money, often with elaborate excuses about why they can’t meet in person. 

If you’re interacting with someone online, it’s important to be alert and consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam,” Rickard said.

“Don’t give out personal information, including your financial details, to anybody you haven’t met in person, no matter who they say they are, and don’t share intimate photos or use webcams in an intimate setting.

“Don’t agree to carry packages internationally or agree to transfer money for someone else as you may be inadvertently committing a crime.”

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