Romantics have been warned by the South Australian government to maintain a healthy level of scepticism ahead of Valentine’s Day on February 14.
Those looking for love in the state were robbed of $2 million last year by dating and romance scammers.
The alert released on Wednesday revealed just how vulnerable to scams some people can be, especially online.
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Mary was one of those who fell victim to a scam, when she discovered her relationship was not all it seemed.
The 66-year-old from Sydney believed she was in a two-year-relationship with a man from the UK, who sent her a video message expressing his love and desire to be together.
When he asked her to pick him up from Sydney Airport, she arrived at 8pm, only to receive a message asking her to wire him money for an airport altercation. She sent him the funds, but her online boyfriend never materialised.
Mary later discovered the image of an American TV presenter had been used by romance scammers, when an investigation by KIIS 1065 producers revealed the Emmy-winning anchor’s face been manipulated using AI software to create the personalised video to dupe her and many others.
“Seeking love online is common, you’ve just got to exercise some caution to ensure you end up being romanced, not robbed,” South Australia’s Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs Andrea Michaels said.
“Looking for love online can make you vulnerable and unfortunately, this is what scammers look for as they seek to gain your trust before leaving you both broke and broken-hearted.”
Citing Scamwatch statistics, the SA Government said more than $30 million was lost to the cruel scams last year across Australia, with $14 million of that total swindled from victims using social media.
It said the most vulnerable demographic in Australia includes people between the age of 35 and 44, but people between 55 and 64 lost the most money last year — a painful $10 million.
“Romance scammers often profess love and affection very quickly to try to influence their targets often coming up with elaborate stories about why they need money urgently,” the SA Government’s statement said.
“They may also convince people to take out money for a fake investment, often saying it’s in cryptocurrency.”
The statement shared tips to exercise caution, and help offset the risks that come with online dating.
The first red flag is any request for money, especially if there is any sort of urgency is implied.
“Watch out for any request to send them money through methods such as money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded cards, or electronic currency, like bitcoin.
“If you are the victim of a scam, it is difficult to recover money sent through these methods. If you think you have been scammed, contact your bank or financial institution as soon as possible.”
When meeting up, the government advice suggested first meeting in a public area.
“Arrange to meet in person in a safe place, or ask to speak via video. If they can’t, it’s a warning sign.”
Even people like Mary who receive a video message aren’t entirely safe.
That’s why the final tip offered by the Malinauskas government on Wednesday is a reverse image search.
“Before you tell someone you’re interested in them, do a reverse-image search on Google or TinEye,” the statement said.
“This can help determine if their profile image is legitimate.”