Watch out for Romance Scams This Valentine’s Day

Watch out for Romance Scams This Valentine’s Day
A woman is seen holding flowers as she makes her way through Martin Place during Valentines Day, in Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 14, 2020. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Rebecca Zhu

Australians are urged to keep an eye out for dating and romance scams this Valentine’s Day after there was a record high of $56 million (US$40 million) in reported losses to Scamwatch in 2021, an increase of 44 percent.

But the full extent of losses to romance scams is much higher, as Scamwatch’s internal research showed that only around 13 percent of all scam victims report to the website.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is warning Australians that romance scammers play on emotional triggers to take advantage of victims, often using techniques such as confessing love very quickly to influence victims.

The scammers then make up elaborate stories asking the victim to send them money, gifts, or financial information.

“It’s important to look out for friends or family members who are using online dating apps and talk about how to spot romance scams,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said. “Talking about scams, including your own experiences, can help others identify them and may prevent them from falling victim in the future.”

Another scam method is “romance baiting,” where the scammer develops a connection on a dating app then offers to show the victim how to invest, often in cryptocurrency.

“Scammers can come up with endless reasons to try and convince you to send money. If you start to feel pressured by your admirer, stop communicating with them,” Rickard said.

A warning sign is when scammers provide endless excuses as to why they cannot meet in person or use video calls.

“Never send money or give personal or financial information to someone you’ve only met online. Think very carefully about taking investment or financial advice from someone on a dating app,” Rickard said.

People aged 55 and over made up almost half the reported losses to romance scams, and women reported higher losses than men.

A customer selects flowers at the Bagala Bros flower stand at Sydney Markets ahead of Valentine’s Day in Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 12, 2022. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
A customer selects flowers at the Bagala Bros flower stand at Sydney Markets ahead of Valentine’s Day in Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 12, 2022. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman advised people to be wary of scammers “emptying their bank accounts and breaking their hearts.”

“It’s not just ‘love’ that’s in the air around Valentine’s Day, scammers are busy targeting Queenslanders looking for love,” she said.

Fentiman urged people to make online checks, such as image searching to determine if the romantic interest’s profile photo is legitimate and keeping communication solely within the app on which the potential partner was found.

Previously, ACCC advised consumers buying flowers for Valentine’s Day to ask where the flowers are coming from and make sure they are not misled into thinking “order gatherers” are local florists.

ACCC is currently investigating the florist industry, particularly the operation of online order gatherers that are large businesses that outsource orders to local florists, making them appear to be locally-based businesses.

“Consumers are often willing to pay premium prices at local florists in the hope they will get fresh flowers, a direct point of contact and reliable delivery,” Rickard said. “[National order gatherers] may mislead a consumer into thinking they are dealing with a small local business.”
The Australian Retail Association (ARA) and Roy Morgan expect Australians to spend $415 million (US$300 million) for Valentine’s Day this year, with each person spending an average amount of $111 (US$79).

Feb. 14 is the busiest day for florists and usually would be for restaurants as well. However, due to the current Omicron outbreak in Australia, people are unlikely to go on dinner dates in usual numbers.