Australian government issues Valentine’s Day scam alert

Sydney: Love may be in the air on February 14 but Saint Valentine’s Day is also peak time for scamming lonely hearts for money, an Australian government body warned on Monday.

Romance scams cost victims more money than any other form of cheating, with those aged over 45 more likely to be stung, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said.

Social media, and particularly Facebook, are very popular with scammers seeking to contact targets.

Last year 4,100 Australians contacted the commission’s Scamwatch service to report dating and romance swindles and more than AUS$25 million (US$19 million) was lost – the largest sum for any type of scam in Australia.

Reports of dating and romance scams increased by more than a third in 2016, the ACCC said, and the amount of money reported lost rose by about $3 million compared to 2015.

“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 to recognise the warning signs,” its deputy chair Delia Rickard said in a statement.

“Scammers create very believable profiles, including stealing the identities of real, trusted people.

“If you meet someone who seems too good to be true, do some research to see if they’re the real deal,” Ms Rickard said.

She also warned against people who express strong feelings quickly.

Scamwatch advised:

— Never provide your financial details or send funds to someone you have met online.

— Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos

— Be very wary if you are moved off a dating website as scammers prefer to use private emails or the phone to avoid detection.

— Don’t share intimate photos or use webcams in an intimate setting which can leave you open to blackmail.