Lonely hearts are being warned about the risk of romance scams — also known as pig butchering — in the lead up to Valentine’s Day.
Scamwatch data shows Australians lost up to $3800 every hour in 2023 and up to $4500 every hour in 2022 to to romance scammers.
The cruel dupes often involve fraudsters luring their targets into online relationships before extorting them for cash.
Financial gain is the motivation for most scammers but some may convince their victims to open bank accounts to enable money laundering or traffic illicit drugs.
The Australian Federal Police has for the first time released details from a confiscated “how-to” manual for romance baiting in a bid to show people the signs to look out for.
It has four key steps — packaging, raising, killing/investment scam and cash out.
Fraudsters will “package” themselves as a particularly affluent person, “raise” and psychologically manipulate their victims, “kill” by draining victims’ finances through an investment fund scam site, and then “cash out” — leaving their victims heartbroken and penniless.
In 2023 more than $33m was lost to romance dupes, down from more than $40m in 2022.
People aged between 55 and 64 lost the most money at $10m, while those between 35 and 44 were most scammed with 612 reports.
Women were duped out of the most cash at a whopping $23m, while men were most likely to be duped, comprising 58 per cent of reports.
But the AFP believes those figures are much higher due to victims being too embarrassed to reveal they had lost money.
Acting assistant commissioner Chris Goldsmid said the decrease in cash lost can partly be attributed to banks, industry and regulators working together, but he urged people to be extra vigilant with Valentine’s Day around the corner.
“The National Anti-Scam Centre is working closely with the AFP so we can supercharge our efforts in protecting the public but also doing all we can bring offenders to justice,” he said.
“We know some members of the community are not coming forward if they have been scammed.
“My message is don’t be embarrassed. Alert your authorities, and think about telling your friends, family or community what happened. The more others know about these unscrupulous scammers the harder it will be for them to target others.”
Victims of cybercrime can report it at www.cyber.gov.au/report-and-recover/report.