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Valentine's Romance Scammers Are Using Gaming Apps To Rob Victims Of Millions

Forget Tinder or Bumble -- online games and Google Hangouts are the new way "romance scammers" are swindling victims.

With Valentine's Day around the corner, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has warned of the rise of "romance scammers".

Beyond traditional dating sites, scammers posing as potential suitors are using games like Words With Friends and Scrabble to con victims.

Over 4000 Australians reported dating and romance scams to Scamwatch last year, at a total cost of almost $29 million.

The majority (31.4 percent) of scams occurred through social media and online forums, which also had the highest ($9.1 million) losses.

These apps provide a perfect space for scammers to find people who are "relaxed and unsuspecting", clinical psychologist Elizabeth Talbot told 10 daily.

Romance scammers pretending to be potential suitors use games like Words With Friends and Scrabble to con unsuspecting victims. Image: Getty

"Game players may be more open to building relationships they deem to be non-threatening," Talbot said.

"Pop culture and the news have helped to form a healthy skepticism among the population around banking scams and the like, but not so much for romance scams which are far less obvious, and more insidious."

Scammers have become "quite sophisticated" at finding new ways of avoiding detection and remaining anonymous, according to tech expert Chris Riddell.

"Many people would assume romance scams happen on dating sites, however this isn't the case at all. Any ‘app’ that has the ability for you to communicate or chat with someone is vulnerable," he told 10 daily.

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Instagram was the most common social media for users to be duped, while Facebook users incurred the highest percentage of financial losses.

The majority of financial losses occur via bank transfer, at almost 34 percent or nearly $10 million. This is followed by ‘other payment’ methods, such as iTunes and Google Play gift cards.

The biggest victims of romance scammers are women aged 45-65, making up almost 55 percent (2165 cases) of all reports.

The biggest victims of romance scammers are women aged 45-65, according to Scamwatch. Image: Getty

Socially isolated older adults with limited relationship experience, who aren't very technology literate, are "particularly vulnerable", according to Talbot.

"Romance scammers generally operate by exploiting an unmet psychological need, usually the need for intimacy or affection, in a vulnerable individual," Talbot said.

"When these needs are seemingly met by affections from an online partner, this can blind the victim, leaving them unable to see or objectively evaluate any red flags."

Riddell said "there are more ways to keep safe than ever" in 2020.

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He said the most basic response is to never transfer money to a person you've never met, "regardless of whatever promises they make to you".

"If you have any doubt about someone you’ve met online, and what they’re asking of you -- find someone to speak to you know and trust. Family, friends, the local police and your bank are all able to be the sense check," Riddell said.

"If you’re ever about to loan or give someone money that you have only ever met online, this is probably the first big red flag."

Contact the author: samelia@networkten.com.au