Online dating in South Africa is experiencing a surge in popularity, with a growing number of individuals seeking connections and companionship on digital platforms. As more people venture into the virtual realm, a surge of insidious scammers has also emerged, preying on the desire for connection and turning the quest for love into a dangerous game of financial deception.
Valentine’s Day, one of the most popular days for love, brings with it not only the promise of love but also the threat of romance scams. Fraudsters use romance scams to exploit individuals emotionally and financially, often resulting in heartbreaking consequences.
The Online Dating market in South Africa is predicted to witness a substantial growth in the number of users and revenue. Statista reported that online dating revenue will reach US$23.80 million (over R450 million) in 2024 and online dating sites will have 6.7 million users by 2028.
In a world buzzing with technology, online dating platforms offer a convenient gateway to find love. However, the same technology that brings people together also provides fertile ground for scammers seeking to exploit vulnerable hearts. This Valentine’s Day, it is very important to arm yourself with knowledge to protect your emotional well-being and financial assets.
First and foremost, it is essential to understand how romance scams operate. Fraudsters typically create fake profiles on dating websites, social media platforms, or online forums to gain access to unsuspecting victims.
Once they gain access to their targets, they establish connections and trust by showering potential victims with affection, compliments, and promises of lasting love. Some fraudsters even shower their targets with flashy gifts and money.
Early into the perceived relationship, scammers often fabricate stories of hardship or financial distress to gain sympathy and manipulate their victims into providing them with money or personal information. This is done to play on their target’s emotions, get money out of them, or to steal a person’s identity. In 2023, eNCA released a special report on the increasing prevalence of unsuspecting women getting caught in romance scams and losing their life savings. Jeanette van Rooy, one of the women who fell victim to a romance scam said that she lost over R1 million to a scammer who promised to pay the money back.
To shield oneself from romance scams, it is crucial to exercise caution and remain vigilant. Here are seven tips to help you avoid falling prey to such scams:
Too Good to Be True
Beware of profiles that seem overly perfect or match your dreams precisely. Scammers often craft enticing personas to lure victims. The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), warned that romance scammers often go as far as creating profiles that match the requirements of the people being targeted to quickly build trust between themselves and the unsuspecting victims.
Exercise caution if the relationship moves too quickly, with professions of love or promises of a future within a short time. Scammers aim to establish trust quickly and use this trust to trick victims into giving them money or confidential information that scammers then use to steal a victim’s money.
Conduct thorough research
Before committing to an online relationship, take the time to verify the identity of the person you are interacting with. Search their name, photos, or any other information they provide to see if it matches up or if it has been associated with any scam reports.
Guard your personal information
Never share sensitive information, such as your address, financial details, ID or passport number, with someone you have met online. Scammers may use this information to commit identity theft or gain unauthorised access to your accounts. Scammers then use your personal information to impersonate you and access your bank accounts and steal your hard-earned money.
Use secure platforms
Avoid moving your conversation with a potential suitor to a private messaging platform. Rather stick to reputable and legitimate dating websites or social media platforms that prioritise user safety. These platforms often have security measures or helplines in place to monitor and remove suspicious profiles.
Seek advice from trusted people
Speak to friends, family, or even professionals if you have any doubts or concerns about the authenticity of an online relationship. Their external perspective can provide valuable insight and help you make informed decisions. If you have been scammed – there is a greater chance of you being targeted again. Scammers share details amongst themselves to increase their chances of success. You may be embarrassed to tell someone you have been scammed but you can stop this from happening to someone else.
Practice online safety when shopping for love interests
Cyber criminals also take advantage of shoppers during the month of love. Cyber criminals will often use fake website names and deceptive e-mails to lure users to phishing sites and even to spread malware. These fraudsters also create fake online stores or imitate popular online stores you often shop at, advertising popular goods and services. The scammers may also advertise specials via internet browsers such as Google or Edge, or social media (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp), to fool you into visiting the fake online store. Once you make a purchase, your credit card and personal details are phished. The transaction may be successfully processed, so it appears to be an actual purchase. However, the goods are not delivered, your money is not refunded and in most cases the company cannot be contacted.
By staying informed and employing these preventative measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to romance scams. Remember, scammers prey on vulnerability, emotions, and trust, so it is important to prioritise your own safety and remain vigilant in the online world. Don’t let your search for love, cost you!
Also read: Pensioner Scammed Over R500,000 By Fake Gqeberha Builder For Bogus Expenses
A fraudulent contractor deceived an elderly individual into providing over R500,000, purportedly for his “brother’s wedding,” his “daughter’s operation,” and his “tax debt.”
The Hawks’ Gqeberha serious commercial crime investigation unit, with support from their counterparts in Bellville, Cape Town, has apprehended a second suspect linked to the scheme.
The Gqeberha based Serious Commercial Crime Investigation of the Hawks with the assistance of Bellville Serious Commercial Crime Investigation of the Hawks arrested Thembeka Bendon (47) for allegations of fraud. Bendon is the second accused to be arrested after the arrest of Thina Mpuhlu (42) who was arrested on 26 October 2023 for the same charge and was released on R2000.00 bail and is currently attending court.
“It is alleged that on 16 March 2014, the complainant who is a pensioner met someone who called himself Mario Bertolini on a dating site.It is further reported that after a month of getting to know each other via cell phone calls, messages and e-mails, Bertolini invited the complainant to his brother’s wedding in Rome, Italy however the complainant could not receive the VISA as it was short notice.,” said Hawks spokesperson Capt Yolisa Mgolodela.