Investigators from the Financial and Cyber Crime Group are reminding the community to stay vigilant to online romance scams, following a rise in complaints involving cryptocurrency-related fraud that start on online dating platforms.
Investigators have received over 70 complaints from victims over the last six months, with some Queensland victims losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Investment scams using online dating and cryptocurrency as hooks reflect how criminals, who are often part of organised crime groups based overseas, are adapting old scams to new technologies to target people worldwide.
The rise in online cryptocurrency scams was recently reported by the Australian Security and Investment Commission (ASIC) after they saw a 20 per cent increase in reported cryptocurrency scams from March to May 2020 compared to the same period last year.
In these scams, fraudsters typically create fake online profiles on dating sites or social media platforms to target potential victims. The scammer may mention an interest in cryptocurrency in their fake profile. They will often take time to build a connection with a victim before mentioning an investment opportunity in cryptocurrency.
While the scams may vary, all rely on similar well-used techniques to steal a victim’s money: emotional manipulation where the lure of romance or intimacy is used as bait, an investment opportunity that sounds too good to be true (and of course you will need to get in quick!), followed by enticing promises that ‘profits’ can be maximised with the payment of even more money. The scammer may even use fake websites and data to make the investment look real. When a victim becomes suspicious, or when the scammer gets money, it is not uncommon for contact to stop and the scammer’s online profile to disappear.
How can you protect yourself?
Be cautious with what information you share online as scammers use personal details when targeting and tailoring scams to prospective victims.
Familiarise yourself with the privacy and security settings of the online site you are using, including how to recognise and report scams to the site.
Always consider the possibility an online approach could be a scam.
Do a reverse image search to check if a profile image has been used elsewhere.
Never trust anything that seems too good to be true and don’t be pressured into making a quick decision – always take a moment to check R U in Control?
Be wary of relationships that develop very quickly. End any that you are not comfortable with – stay in control of what you do.
Do not make financial payments to someone online you have never met. When it comes to alleged investment opportunities, always do independent research and seek independent financial advice. Be aware that the recovery of money sent by cryptocurrency is rare.
If you or someone you know has been scammed:
Stop all contact with the scammer and block them.
If you have lost money notify your bank immediately.
Report the matter to police via ReportCyber (www.cyber.gov.au/report).
Notify the relevant social media or dating platform.
Secure your accounts – change passwords for social media/online accounts and review privacy and security settings.
Learn more about scams at www.scamwatch.gov.au and R U In Control.
If you have information for police, contact Policelink by providing information using the online suspicious activity form 24hrs per day at www.police.qld.gov.au/reporting.
You can report information about crime anonymously to Crime Stoppers, a registered charity and community volunteer organisation, via crimestoppersqld.com.au 24hrs per day.