What’s the number-one scam causing millions in losses?

New figures show $28 million has been lost by people targeted in online dating scams. 

New figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) show online dating scams remain the number one scam for financial losses in Australia. Victims collectively lost $28 million to these scams in 2014 alone, with an average loss per victim of $27,000. And they’re just the ones we know about—some people are embarrassed to admit they’ve been stung.

To avoid falling for romance scams it’s critical to know how these gambits work. The typical pattern is that a genuine user of a dating website is contacted by a potential admirer. After forming a relationship via the internet, email or even over the phone, the scammer makes the inevitable request for money.

The reasons why cash is needed can be as varied as the scammers themselves—to pay medical bills for a sick relative; to buy a plane ticket so the scammer can meet up with you (which they have no intention of doing) or to fund worthy deeds like the construction of a new orphanage.

Uh huh…

We all like to think we’d spot a con like this a mile away. But scammers don’t rush their work. They may take months to gain your trust, and with millions of people registered for online dating across the globe they can probably afford to take their time.

To avoid becoming the next victim of romance scams, keep your identity secure by avoiding personal details in an online dating profile and on social media.

Be wary of anyone you have only met online who professes strong feelings for you very quickly—especially if they are reluctant to meet in person. If you’re asked for cash, no matter how heartbreaking the reason, the solution is simple.

Don’t send money.

Above all, never hand out details of your bank account or credit card. It’s the equivalent of gifting money to a complete stranger, something most of us wouldn’t dream of doing in the real world.

For more ideas on protecting yourself from romance scams check out my book Money, Marriage and Divorce or visit the government’s ScamWatch website.

Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.

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