In Welfare Services

Victoria Minister for Consumer Affairs Michael O’Brien

Online Dating Scams Warning For St. Valentine’s Day

Victor P Taffa

Minister for Consumer Affairs Michael O’Brien has reminded Victorians to be vigilant about romance scams when using online dating sites this St. Valentine’s Day.

“It is important to remember that scammers often target online dating or romance websites for their fraudulent activity, particularly at this time of year.” Mr. O’Brien said.

Many romance scams operate online, with perpetrators posing behind fake online profiles on dating sites to build an emotional relationship with their victim. Their ultimate aim, however, is to scam people out of their hard-earned money.

Romance and online dating scams can take place over many months or even years, with scammers working to build a level of trust in their victims, encouraging them to let down their guard.

“If you use online dating sites, be aware of the risks, and avoid transferring money or providing sensitive personal information to people you have only met on the internet.” Mr. O’Brien said.

“Even if you feel you have developed a strong relationship over time with somebody over the internet, always remain vigilant and remember that it is extremely difficult to recover money transferred to scammers.” Mr. O’Brien said.

Scammers often will request money to cover travel costs for a face-to-face meeting, or to assist with medical bills and other family matters. Some scammers have even sought funds under the guise of a kidnapping ransom.

In 2011, Consumer Affairs Victoria received more than 5,000 reports of scams, including more than 1,400 reports of romance and other advance-fee and online scams.

Many victims were lured by promises of thousands or even millions of dollars if they paid for insurance schemes, taxes or goods to be released from holding facilities.

In one case, an Oakleigh man looking for love was offered a share of a $45 Million inheritance by a woman in the United Kingdom if he would wire transfer $7,000 to pay for financial insurance.

Another scammer posed as a London businessman claiming to have a $28 Million shipment held up in Malaysian customs. He promised a Rowville woman a share in the sales revenue if she was able to transfer money to have the goods released, at which point she contacted Consumer Affairs Victoria.

Other victims reported having their hearts broken by scammers pretending to be US army personnel stationed in the Middle East. One man pretending to be a solider claimed he was unable to take leave to visit the victim unless they transferred $23,000 for a secure charter flight.

“Under no circumstances should you offer to transfer money for others. If you’re ever in doubt regarding the best course of action, speak with your friends and family, or visit consumer.vic.gov.au for advice and to dob in a scam.” Mr. O’Brien said.

Tips to avoid online dating scams:

• Be extremely careful about providing personal information on social networking sites and online chat rooms, and never send your credit card or banking details via email;

• Always consider the possibility that an approach from someone online may be a scam, and seek advice from friends, family or Consumer Affairs Victoria if you feel unsure;

• Only send money or gifts to people you know in person and trust;

• Don’t be taken in by documents and photographs that appear to be genuine – scammers often provide fake evidence to build trust in their victims;

• Ensure your computer has up-to-date comprehensive anti-virus software, and avoid opening attachments from ‘secret admirers’;

• Test your knowledge of scammers’ tactics by doing the Government’s online scams quiz at www.consumer.vic.gov.au/scams;

• If you believe you may have fallen victim to an online dating scam, immediately contact your financial institution and Consumer Affairs Victoria on 1300 55 81 81.

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