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Friday, 14 February 2014 12:05

Scams of the heart: ACCC issues Valentine warning

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Leafy hearts - Wikimedia Leafy hearts - Wikimedia

The ACCC has issued a timely Valentine’s Day warning that looking for love and romance on the Internet cost Australians $25 million in just one year when they fell victim to scammers.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, in 2013 the number of dating and romance scams rose by 13.6%, with those victims losing a combined $2 million more than they did in 2012.

Of the $25.3 million lost to scammers last year, the ACCC says over 400 people reported that they had lost in excess of $10,000 and of those, 64 reported losing over $100,000. And, 43% of people who came into contact with dating and romance scams lost money – one of the highest conversion rates of scams reported to the ACCC.

“Scammers are experts at preying on people’s vulnerabilities, particularly around sentimental times of the year such as Valentine’s Day,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

According to Rickard, “scammers go to great lengths to gain your trust, spending months and even years building a relationship with you. Once your defences are lowered, they spin an elaborate tale about how they need your financial help with a crisis, such as being ill or stranded and ask for money.

“Alarm bells should go off if they request money, especially via wire transfer. This payment method is popular with scammers as it is almost impossible to trace and it is rare to recover money sent this way. Sadly, most of the people who fall victims to dating and romance scams sent wire transfers right into the hands of scammers who then disappeared or asked for more money, leaving the victim with an empty pocket and a broken heart.”

Rickard warns that these scams can also pose a risk to your personal safety “as scammers are often part of international criminal networks. Scammers have lured unwitting Australian victims overseas, putting people in dangerous situations that can have tragic consequences.”

“If you are meeting locally in person, choose a public place and let family or friends know where you are at all times. Before taking that next step, run a Google image search using any photos provided by someone you met online as they may have been used in various profiles and could be a stolen identity. It’s quick and easy and could save you time, money and heartache.”

The ACCC has issued these SCAMwatch tips:

•    Keep your personal details personal: Never share personal information or photos with someone you don’t know and trust – especially photos or webcam of a private nature. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using this material to blackmail victims

•    Watch out: If an online admirer asks to communicate with you outside the dating website, such as through a private email address or over the phone, be wary – they could be trying to avoid detection

•    Search: Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided. Scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online

•    Think twice: Never send money to someone you’ve met on line, especially via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer – it’s rare to recover money sent this way

•    Report: If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

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For further information on scams go to the scamwatch website  

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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