The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is warning people to be wary of romance scams on social media and other online channels.
The ACCC says 4,100 people contacted its Scamwatch service in 2016 to report dating and romance scams. These scams collectively cost victims more than $25 million, the largest amount of money lost to any type of scam.
Scamwatch statistics revealed Facebook was a popular channel for scammers and people aged 45 and over were most likely to fall victim.
"Reports of dating and romance scams increased by more than a third in 2016 and, sadly, the amount of money reported lost has also increased by about $3 million compared to 2015," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard says.
"Romance scammers are getting increasingly manipulative so if you are going online this Valentine’s Day to look for love, it’s absolutely vital that you’re able recognise the warning signs."
"Look for inconsistencies in their stories. For example, do they say they are university educated but have poor English and grammar? Is their profile picture legitimate or stolen? These are red flags that you’re likely dealing with a scammer."
"Also be careful when someone expresses strong feelings quickly after you meet them. A scammer’s currency is 'love at first type' – they will use your emotions against you and leave you devastated financially and emotionally," Ms Rickard says.
"Perhaps the biggest warning sign is when a scammer asks you for money. After gaining your trust – often waiting weeks, months or even years – they tell you an elaborate story involving some crisis, or plan to travel to see you and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details."
The ACCC provides the following advice to protect yourself against romance scams:
Never provide your financial details or send funds to someone you’ve met online. Scammers particularly seek money orders, wire transfers or international funds transfer as it’s rare to recover money sent this way.
Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided as scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online.
Be very wary if you are moved off a dating website as scammers prefer to correspond through private emails or the phone to avoid detection.
Don’t share intimate photos or use webcams in an intimate setting. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using such photos or webcam recordings to blackmail victims.
If you think you have fallen victim to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and report it.