Scammers have taken to using dating apps and cryptocurrencies to lure victims into phony investment schemes in Australia, part of a record-breaking year for scams.

Australia’s consumer regulator today issued a warning about “romance baiting” following $37 million dollars being reported lost to Scamwatch, its website for scam reporting and awareness.

Romance baiting involves scammers using dating apps to meet people, then luring them to encrypted messaging apps. After establishing a relationship the scammer will begin asking about the victim’s finances and encourage them to participate in an investment opportunity.

The scam works, with 400 reports of romance baiting scams with over $15.2 million in losses reported last year. Most involved cryptocurrencies.

“These scams prey on people seeking connection and can leave victims with significant financial losses and emotional distress,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“While traditional dating and romance scams tend to target older Australians, almost half of all losses to romance baiting scams come from people under the age of 35.”

Australians lost $176 Million to scams in 2020, according to reports to Scamwatch. But the actual total is likely much higher.

Scammers also used COVID-19 to their advantage last year, using the pandemic to phish for personal information and in online shopping and superannuation scams. According to Scamwatch, there have been 5170 scam reports mentioning the coronavirus with over $6 million in losses since the pandemic began.

People using dating apps are being urged by the ACCC to keep conversations within the app as it likely has more protections and offenders can be removed when identified.

“Remember that you are in control and if you start to feel pressured by someone, stop communicating with them,” said Rickard.

“You can also do an internet search with the name or photo of your love interest or some of the phrases they have used to help identify if it is a scam.”

Victims of scams should contact their banks and the platform on which it occurred as soon as possible to report the incident. Scams can also be reported to Scamwatch, which provides updates and advice on popular scams.

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