Sex & Relationships
A major bank is warning Australians to remain vigilant against scammers this Valentine’s Day after an estimated $21.4 million was lost to romance scams last year.
The day designated for lovers – February 14 this year – has been known to attract sophisticated scammers who target vulnerable people and attempt to extract money under the false pretense of connection.
National Australia Bank security awareness manager Laura Hartley said the bank wanted to help educate customers on some of the most common scams to help them avoid falling victim.
“With the increase in romance scams last year, we’re working hard to better educate our customers, colleagues and community to recognize the red flags,” she said.
“These scams can have a devastating impact – both financial and emotional – and we see people of all ages, genders and demographics targeted.”
There were three main tactics criminals used to connect with people looking for love, friendship or a casual fling online, Hartley said.
The traditional approach: Criminals try to steal the victim’s heart by gaining their trust and then asking, pressuring or persuading them to send money.
Romance baiting: Criminals initiate friendship via text or messaging apps and encourage victims to “invest” in cryptocurrency, shares, term deposits or foreign currency exchanges.
Sexual extortion: Criminals get the victim to send compromising or sexual images, or claim they are already in possession of them. In both variations, the criminals demand payment in exchange for not sharing the images.
In the coming weeks, NAB will introduce payment alerts to its digital banking platforms to help customers spot potential romance scam red flags.
Hartley said while many long and successful relationships started online, it was vital that Australians knew how to recognise a potential partner from a scammer.
“Someone you haven’t met in person asking for money – often with an emotional reason why – is the biggest red flag,” she said.
“Another red flag is someone instructing you to accept a money transfer and then transfer those funds to another account.”
A 65-year-old customer recently came into a Sydney NAB branch wanting to transfer more than $650,000 across three accounts for his “fiancee,” who was later revealed to be a scammer.
“The banker recognized the red flags, asked questions about the size and purpose of the transfer and it stopped the scam in its tracks,” Hartley said.
“It turned out the customer had never met his fiancee of several months and didn’t know who he was transferring the money to.”
Spotting a scammer from a potential partner
Red flag – The person is reluctant to video chat and makes excuses about why their webcam isn’t working.
Tips – Ask why and look at the quality of any images or videos you’re sent. Criminals don’t want you to see what they really look like and the video quality is likely to appear distorted. Do a reverse image search on any images they send you to see if they are being used by other people or have been reported as a scam.
Red flag – The person asks for money for medical, travel or business emergencies.
Tips – Do not send any money. Stop all contact immediately and report what’s happened to your bank and the platform where you met the person.
Red flag – The person can’t meet in person, often working overseas for a government, army or an aid organization, and there are inconsistencies with what they tell you. For example, “I’m born in America” but then they have poor English in messages.
Tips – Remain skeptical and vigilant. Tell family and friends about the relationship. Ask questions of the person and do name searches on search engines like Google or TinEye.
Red flag – The person asks you to have money transferred to your account and then you transfer it on to them or another person.
Tip – Do not accept or transfer any money. It is known as money muling and is illegal. Stop all contact and contact your bank.
Red flag – Early on, the person pushes to move the conversation to text messages or email.
Tip – Keep conversations happening in dating apps and websites. These companies have more potential to help if the conversations happen on their platforms compared to private channels.