Lonely Aussies Are Losing Almost $25 Million To Romance Scams

Australians are being warned to stay vigilant of online romance scams in the lead up to Valentine's Day, which experts say is prime time for scammers to target the vulnerable through social media and dating apps.

Ellen's* partner was arrested after boarding a plane in Africa carrying diamonds and stood accused of money laundering. He needed help.

So when she was contacted by a man claiming to represent him, asking for financial assistance with legal fees, she didn't hesitate.

Ellen, who is in her 50s,  handed over $10,000 to save her partner, who she had actually never met.  The only thing was, there was no arrest, not 'partner', no legal fees. I was all a scam. But Ellen didn't realise until she was contacted by her bank after trying to make another transfer.

The scam team at ANZ -- who were alerted when Ellen tried to wire even more money -- were only able to convince Ellen she'd been scammed when they found doctored photos of her 'partner' online, including a photo of criminal in the United States used to convince her he'd been arrested.

If you think you or your loved ones would never fall for such a scam, keep reading.

Australians lost almost $25 million in romance scams last year, according to Scamwatch, a 20 percent increase from 2017.

Already, more than $1 million has been lost in 2019.

"Finding potential new love is exhilarating, but that can make it easy to miss the red flags that point to you falling for a scammer," said ACCC's Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.

Increasingly, romance scammers are targeting people through Tinder and Viber, said Scamwatch, but social media continues to be the most common method of contact.

"Scammers tend to go where people are, and in the dating world that increasingly means on social media and dating apps," Richard said.

Romance scammers are targeting people on social media. Photo: Getty.

Online love scams are so prevalent and widespread there are hundreds of groups dedicated to uncovering them, such as Advocates Against Romance Scams. Who has even begun a petition asking for there to be responsibility and action taken on the romance scams littering social media.

Scams, where the first point of contact was on an app, have increased by more than 300 percent over the past two years.

"On apps, it can be trickier as the whole point is meeting new people," Rickard said.

"However, nearly all romance scammers will eventually reveal their intentions, which is getting your money. If you’ve only ever known the person online or through an app, don’t give them money. You may think you love them and want to help, but they’ll just break your heart, and deplete your bank account."

There are peaks around Valentine's Day and Christmas, according to ANZ's cyber security expert Marc Broome.

"We're encouraging Australians to educate themselves in the lead up to Valentine's Day to protect themselves, their friends and family members from scammers, and avoid the long-lasting financial and emotional impact that can result from these scams."

READ MORE: Sliding Into Someone's DMs Is How We're Dating In 2019

Women are slightly more likely than men to be targeted by scammers.

"It can pay to trust your head over your heart," Rickard warned.

"If you have any doubts about someone you have met online or an app, doing a Google search on their name and pictures can often reveal scammers."

*Her name has been changed

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Feature Image: Advocates Against Romance Scams