Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
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How to spot a romance scam

Criminals looking to convince you of real love are typically after something else, so what do you look for: how can you spy a romance scam?

Love is in the air, but if you’re a criminal, love may well be a great way to snag credit card details and someone’s identity, creating a recipe for anguish, heartbreak, and theft.

Unfortunately, romance scams are a real thing, and something criminals can make big money from, with over 3500 romance scams reported last year alone to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, and losses amounting to over $37 million. It’s a staggering amount, but one that could grow, as cybercriminals head online to ensnare more individuals, something that may increase during times like Valentine’s Day.

Romance and dating scams are a scourge at all times, but if you’re expecting to see ads for roses and chocolates, you can bet a criminal is planning some scams for these times, too, not just every other time.

Fortunately, there are ways to spot criminals in the action any time. It doesn’t just have to be February 14 or the days leading up to it to work out if a scammer is after something more lucrative than your heart. You just have to know what a romance scam looks like, and how to stay on guard against attempts to fleece your affections.

What is a romance scam?

Also called a “dating scam”, a romance scam is pretty much exactly what the name suggests: a scam that uses romance and the lure of dating to get you to hand over your details or money.

In a nutshell, romance scams are fraud, where someone pretends they like you, typically in exchange for personal information such as financial details, money, or gifts. Cybercriminals may hold your attention in an online romance with the lure that you’ll eventually get further in the relationship, though it’s more likely that you never will, and are just being held long enough for the criminal to convince you that they’re legitimate when they’re anything but.

Because romance scams are still just scams, the focus is on a gain of some kind. With online dating is typically about affection, criminals engaging in romance scams are using the same language to get you to buy them things, given them money, or hand over your details so they can use them against you.

Essentially a romance scam is the worst kind of relationship, and one that could leave you more than just emotionally hurt, but financially, as well.

How do you recognise a dating scam?

The problem with a romance scam is that anyone looking for love can potentially fall into one. It doesn’t take much, because if you’re looking for love online, the person on the other end can lie very easily.

But there might be a few things off about the conversation, and it might feel a little like you’re being catfished, so to speak.

“Dating and romance scams are often hard to detect,” said Mark Gorrie, Senior Director of Norton Life Lock.

“They often take place through online dating websites and apps, but scammers may also use social media. There are some key telltale signs to watch out for when on these dating platforms and social media,” he said.

They include looking at the profile, and working out whether aspects of the profile aren’t right. Human profiles will typically show an entire body at points, not just crops of their head or their face, or even not listing a whole lot of details.

There’s also the risk that a romantic profile may match yours exactly, with scammers targeting by using like-minded interests. That doesn’t mean everyone with similar interests is a scammer, but rather that people who have identical interests may warrant treading carefully.

Those images can also be a red flag, so if they don’t seem right — or even if they do — right click on the image in a profile on a website, select copy, and head to Google Images, pasting into the field. Google Images allows you to do a reverse image search, which may not work all the time, but if the image comes back, something may be wrong about the profile.

Not having a positive hit doesn’t mean the image is legit, mind you; Google doesn’t have every image indexed in the world. However it can provide a dead giveaway if an image comes from a stock photo website, or even if it comes from the real person’s profile, and you might be able to contact that person to see whether you’re talking to the real deal.

Being cautious for dating scams goes beyond that, though, and often relate to the speed in which they operate.

“Romance scammers want to act fast before their targets catch on to their antics,” said Gorrie. “For this reason, they like to gain your trust right away. This could be that they profess their love for you surprisingly quickly or ask you to marry them.”

It might seem crazy, but it shouldn’t surprise you that a scammer will want you to think they’re head-over-heels crazy in love with you so that you trust without thinking. For that, you might just listen to their other demands.

“If your online love interest asks you for money and you haven’t even met them, beware, ” said Gorrie to Pickr.

“A romance scammer may ask you to send money for things like travel expenses like a plane ticket or a visa/passport, medical expenses like surgeries or gambling debts.”

Asking for money is typically a dead giveaway that something is amiss, and is one of the first issues that the person you’re talking to is less than legit. Whether a scammer is part of a big project or a small-time scammer looking to con people out of money, it’s typically the end result they’re after, that goes against what you’re after.

They may even promise to visit but then cancel, and come up with elaborate reasons about why they can’t. Or they’ll tell you their webcam doesn’t work in an age where everyone has a webcam on their phone. Or they’ll ghost you, disappearing for weeks and return with yet another cockamamie set of reasons.

“It’s important to know how to outsmart a romance scammer and how to act fast if you think you’ve been scammed,” said Gorrie.

“The most important rules is don’t ever give out your financial information or send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met face-to-face,” he said. “It’s a good idea to approach an online relationship slowly and ask questions as you get to know each other. Keep an eye out for inconsistencies or answers that may not add up with other details the person has provided. If something about the online romance doesn’t feel right, you can check out their social media profiles.”

The point is this: if you’re looking for love online, it’s easy enough to fall for a scammer much like how anyone call fall for any scam as it is, but also possible to see the signs.

Stay aware, and keep your guard up just long enough to make sense of it all. And if you suspect you’ve fallen for one, stop all conversation entirely and report the user to the dating service, and the police. Preventing it from happening to other people might just help everyone in the long run.

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