Romance Scams and how to avoid them

Online romance scams

There was a recent article in the New Zealand Herald (premium subscription) headed up ‘Catfished: Kiwi loses $840,000 to online romance scams’.

This was the largest reported loss in a long term romance scam, but it is reported that nearly $19 million was lost to online fraud last year (to 30 June) at an average of $4,777.  But of course, this was only the reported amounts – a lot of people are embarrassed to report the losses.

Surprisingly people aged 18-40 were involved with almost half of the losses, showing that this isn’t only an ‘old people’ thing.

Scams are getting more and more sophisticated, and with more people working from home under Covid conditions, your home network and online activity provides more opportunities for scammers and fraudsters.

Another article in New Zealand that is of interest: Mother sent $865,000 to romance scammer, bank 'not responsible'.

The FBI describes romance scams as:

Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim.

The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable. Con artists are present on most dating and social media sites.

The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.

Scam artists often say they are in the building and construction industry and are engaged in projects outside the U.S. That makes it easier to avoid meeting in person—and more plausible when they ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee.

If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using your account to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.

Here are some useful tools for you and your friends and family to use to avoid scams:

How to identify a romance scammer using a google images search.  https://www.netsafe.org.nz/ide...

Tips for Avoiding Romance Scams:  

Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.

Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.

Go slowly and ask lots of questions.

Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.

Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.

Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.

Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

Online scams reported to Netsafe, July 1 2019 - June 30 2020

• Investment fraud, 367 reports, $7m lost

• Romance scams, 252 reports, $4.7m lost

• Products and services fraud, 2509 reports, $3.3m lost

• Prize and grant fraud, 280 reports, $1.1m lost

• Phantom debt collection fraud, 32 reports, $696,000 lost

Netsafe's 10 tips to spot a scam

• Contact that's out of the blue - even if the person claims to be from an organisation like a bank or internet provider

• Getting told there's a problem with your phone, laptop or internet

• Being asked for passwords - legitimate organisations never do this

• Needing to verify your account or details - don't reply or click on links in an email, even if it appears to be from a real organisation

• Trying to get you to move outside of an online booking or trading website like Air BnB - don't pay outside of the usual website or app processes

• Offering money or a prize in exchange for something upfront - scammers might want a "processing fee" to release promised riches

• Being asked for money by friends/partners you've met online

• Unusual ways to pay for something - scammers often use payments not easily traced, like money transfers or pre-loaded debit cards

• Asking for remote access to your device


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