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Australians are being warned to be extra vigilant this Valentine's Day as scammers ramp up efforts to capture millions of dollars from lonely hearts.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Watchdog (ACCC), Australians lost $20.5 million to dating and romance scams in 2017.
More than 3700 reports of fake online romances – colloquially known as "catfishing" – were reported, with women losing twice as much money as men.
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Australians over the age of 45 are most likely to be targeted on lonely days like Valentine's Day.
A key battleground for scammers is social media, which the ACCC said was used to funnel $9.7 million from victims.
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Social media has overtaken online dating sites as the most common way for dating and romance scammers to contact potential victims,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
"Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and while it’s a happy day for many, for some it can be quite lonely and isolating.
"If you’re going on social media, a dating site or app to find a potential Mr or Ms Right, it’s important to keep your guard up to a scammer’s advances."
ANZ data shows that while women lost twice as much money to online scams, it was men who appeared to be the target of the majority of scams.
ANZ's Managing Director retail Distribution Catriona Noble said Valentine's Day is peak season for romance crooks who capitalise on vulnerable online users seeking companionship.
"A friend request on Facebook or a message on a dating site from a stranger might be the start of a romance scam, so it’s absolutely vital to recognise the signs," said Noble.
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"Scammers typically use a false identity to capture your interest and build an emotional connection by revealing personal information, sending gifts or promising to visit – this is commonly known as catfishing.
"Once they’ve gained your trust, they’ll ask for money either directly or more subtly, for example by telling you they have a sick relative who needs money for treatment. It’s important to realise that anyone can be a potential target for scammers."
The ACCC recommends users never provide financial details to people they've met online, and never to send funds to a person they haven't met in person.
Common "catfishing" signs include: a social media profile that's "too good to be true", is overseas, expresses strong feelings early into the relationship and makes excuses to avoid face-to-face contact.
Users who believe they are being targeted by a romance or dating scam can report it at Scamwatch.gov.au.
Have you been a victim on an online romance scam? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org