Far out Friday: Lonely hearts ripped out and ripped off this Valentine's Day

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A warning this Valentine’s Day for those who use internet dating: be on the lookout for scammers. The ACCC and a credit reporting specialist warn that getting sucked in by a scammer may not only leave you broken hearted, but can also leave you broke.

CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repair, Graham Doessel, says that because of the personal nature of dating scams, many intimate details may be shared and scammers could not only extract money, but can also garner enough information to steal your identity and take credit out in your name.

“The costs of identity theft can be significant long term and are magnified by the fact that identity fraud is often not detected until you attempt to take out credit in your own name and are refused due to credit rating defaults from unpaid credit you didn’t initiate.”

Doessel says the NSW Fair Trading Commission has issued fresh warnings in regards to romance scams, saying consumers are at risk of high debt and dissatisfaction.

“Commissioner Rod Stowe warns if you are looking for love, get introduction agency agreements in writing and beware of predators online and elsewhere. Repeated requests for more money are standard practice for traditional and online romance scammers, whether the requests come from an agency or prospective partners.”

Once you’re ‘on the hook’, Doessel says a scammer will reel you in as long as you take the bait.

“The internet presents a whole range of risks for consumers looking for love. The ACCC reported Australians lost $21 million to dating and romance scams in 2011. The average loss for a victim reporting a scam to the ACCC was more than $20,000.”

He says romance scams are so rampant in Australia that the ACCC now requires online dating sites to display scam warnings and will threaten action against companies that fail to comply.

“Scammers target victims by creating fake profiles on legitimate internet dating services.”

The ACCC warns once you are in contact with a scammer, they will express strong emotions in a relatively short period of time and will suggest you move the relationship away from the website, to phone, email and/or instant messaging. Scammers often claim to be from Australia, but travelling or working overseas.

“They will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as sharing personal information and even sending you gifts. Scammers may take months to build what seems like the romance of a lifetime. They will then ask you for money, gifts, or your banking/credit card details.”

The ACCC says scammers can site various reasons for needing money, including to cover the costs associated with non-existent accidents and illnesses, various fees and charges associated with precious goods such as diamonds, gold bullion and gemstones, or to arrange a meeting which never occurs.

 The ACCC’s SCAMwatch outlines some ways people can protect themselves when dating online:

- Always consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam…Try to remove the emotion from your decision-making, no matter how caring or persistent they seem.

- Talk to an independent friend, relative or fair trading before you send any money. Think twice before sending money to someone you have only recently met online or haven’t met in person.

- Never give credit card or online account details to anyone by email.

- Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam.

- Where possible, avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer. It is rare to recover money sent this way.

-If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

If you think you may be ‘dating’ a scammer, contact the ACCC on 1300 795 995 and if you have given over money, contact Police immediately.

 

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