Romance scams are on the rise. It’s important to know the signs of these scams so that you can help protect yourself, your loved ones and your friends, because people don’t usually know they’re part of a romance scam until it’s too late.
Scammers gain the trust of often vulnerable people by pretending they’re looking for friendship or love. It can happen quickly, and once trust is established, the scammer will ask for money or personal information to carry out identity theft. The person being scammed may be asked to accept payments into their bank accounts and send the money onwards – turning them into an unwitting money launderer.
Australians lost $142 million to romance scams in 2021 and they’re one of the top three scams causing the most financial and emotional harm*.
How romance scams work
Scammers will usually take advantage of you through dating websites, apps and social media, saying they’ve fallen in love with you almost immediately.
They’ll use fake profiles, often claiming to be a US citizen who works overseas for the government, army or an aid organisation, but you may notice their messages have poor spelling and grammar.
The scammer will typically ask to communicate through email or SMS, rather than continuing through the dating or social media sites.
They like to create a sense of urgency, saying they need money for a personal emergency – or may even send you valuable items, like laptops and phones, asking you to send them to someone else to cover up criminal activity.
Signs someone might be involved in a romance scam
Your friend or relative is in a relationship that started online but they’ve never met the person face-to-face or seen them via webcam or video chat.
If they’ve spoken on the phone, the calls are brief and rare.
They’re secretive about the relationship – they may have been coached not to share too many details.
They’ve been asked for money or to make an investment.
Grace^, a widow, enjoyed playing online games on Facebook. One day, her opponent sent her a message. “It started very innocently,” said Grace. “He told me his name was Malcolm James, he was in the military, and was based in Iraq. He also said he felt lonely and was looking for some company.” Grace was drawn into what she thought was a loving relationship. Over time, Grace transferred money to him overseas for medical emergencies and airfares – but it was all a scam. Grace lost $374,000 – her entire life savings – as well as taking out a $35,000 loan against her house. “This has ruined my life. I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”To learn more about the red flags Grace missed, visit nab.com.au/romancescams
What to do if you suspect someone’s being scammed
Share your concerns with your friend or relative and show them the similarities between their relationship and the case studies on the Australian Government’s Scamwatch website at scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams
Search the internet for the scammer’s name to see if they’ve been reported on scam sites. Some search engines also let you search images, so if you have a photo of the scammer, you can upload it to the search engine to see if it’s already appearing on scam reporting sites.
If your friend or relative has already sent money, they should report it to the police, their bank and the Australian Government’s ReportCyber website at cyber.gov.au/acsc/report
Have you heard of spoofing?
Australians are also losing money to other scams like ‘spoofing’. This is when criminals impersonate phone numbers or company names that come up in your phone, so it looks like calls are coming from a legitimate number or company, and fraudulent texts may appear in the same conversation as legitimate ones.So remember: never click on suspicious links, and if you’re asked to call a number and transfer money to a ‘safe’ account – don’t. We’ll never ask you to do this because your money’s safe where it is. If you have concerns about a call or text, phone us on our publicly-listed number (available on the back of your card and on our website).