The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is warning lonely hearts to be extra careful this Valentine's Day. Last year, there was a 30 per cent increase in dating and romance scams.
According to ACCC acting chairman, Peter Kell, said people looking for love online had to be extra careful as 550 victims called the regulatory body in 2009 – an increase from 430 in 2008.
“Scammers target victims by creating fake profiles on Internet dating sites, chat rooms or introductory services and they go to great lengths to establish a trusting relationship with victims,” Kell said.
“These scammers then prey on victim’s emotional vulnerability by representing that they wish to travel to Australia or are in urgent need of money.”
He said the increase in victims was a natural side effect of Internet dating as the services become more common and accepted within society.
“We can see online dating becoming a more mainstream part of the way that we carry out our relationships and romantic lives in the modern world,” Kell said. “Scammers also see that unfortunately and they’re seeking to take advantage of it.”
While the acting chairman said the ACCC would take action where the scammers could be identified, he said it was exceptionally difficult because many would-be sirens are in fact advanced criminal organisations.
“Once the money has been sent, especially if it’s gone overseas, it can become impossible to retrieve it,” he said. “Scammers these days are not shabby amateurs…unfortunately we find that scam operators, especially in the online world, are part of sophisticated networks and they may be established in jurisdictions where law enforcement is less of a priority.
But despite the ACCC’s best efforts, Kell sees the number of lonely hearts losing money to fake profiles increasing as more and more people get online to find love and relationships.
“We’re certainly not suggesting people shouldn’t participate in online dating or introduction websites, but it’s really about really aware that scammers are operating in that territory,” he said. “Most importantly, avoid any situation where you’re being asked to send money or banking details to people you haven’t met, especially if they’re based overseas, no matter how credible the story sounds.”
The warning comes after another regulatory body, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), successfully took several SMS spammers to the Federal Court for creating fake dating profiles and charging victims to respond at up to $5 a message. The spammers were fined $22.25 million.