ACT News

Canberra's lonely hearts lose more than half a million dollars in 2015

It's a tale as old as online - it begins with a friend request but ends with being broke and brokenhearted.

Now singles are being warned to watch out for sophisticated scammers looking for a 'Facebook fiance' this Valentine's Day.

In the final quarter of 2015 Facebook increased its advertising revenue to $US5.64 billion.
In the final quarter of 2015 Facebook increased its advertising revenue to $US5.64 billion. Photo: Reuters

Australians lost nearly $23 million to dating scams last year, with lovelorn Canberrans contributing half a million dollars to that sum, the Australian consumer watchdog has revealed.

Shysters ripped on average close to $6000 each from the ACT's 95 victim's through dating scams in 2015, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

But these figures represent only a tenth of the funds stolen by lonely hearts scammers, the ACCC's deputy chair Delia Rickard said - and Facebook is where a significant number of them are trawling for victims.

"Nearly one quarter of reported romance scams originate on social media, in particular Facebook," she said.

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"Many people are too embarrassed to report to anyone so our figures are just the tip of the iceberg. I would say that's just 10 per cent of the lot."

From the data provided, most of last year's romance scam victims were women, the majority aged 45 to 55 years.

Ms Rickard said scammers usually target those aged 45 to 65 as they're more likely to be well-off but be at a more vulnerable stage of life.

"It's often a time when their kids have left home, a lot of divorces happen, but it's a stage of life where people do have some money," she said.

Nigel Phair, director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra, said women in that age bracket were among the "heaviest" users of Facebook - which makes it ripe ground for dodgy dealers.

And while more and more people have their hackles raised when it comes to trusting someone they meet on a dating website, Mr Phair said often the same wariness doesn't apply to Facebook.

"Unfortunately too many people don't use their privacy settings on Facebook, they not only put too much information about themselves out there but allow just anyone to connect with them and that's when the grooming begins," he said.

Ms Rickard said the commission is looking to partner with social media platforms to weed out swindlers targeting vulnerable Australians.

They're also trying to encourage dating websites to adopt a revised list of guidelines to stop customers being targeted.

But there are things you can do to stop your family from being targeted, she said.

"If your parents, grandparents are on Facebook go and take a look at their settings and help them go set them up so they are properly private because that generation, my generation, didn't grow up with those things so we're not as savvy with all the intricacies of the tools that are on there to help protect yourself," she said.

Mr Phair recommends people use their "real-world operating sensibilities in the online environment".

"If you meet a guy at a pub, you're not going to tell him all about yourself straight up there and then, but people on social media feel weirdly compelled to reveal way too much about themselves to a complete stranger they've never laid eyes on," he said.

"The best thing you can do is lock down Facebook social media privacy settings. Don't put personally identifying information up on posts that might indicate where you work, where you live, the kinds of social things you do."

How to tell if you're in love with an online scammer

They profess strong feelings for you after just a couple of contacts. If you met on a dating site they will try and move you away from the site and chat via email.

Their online profiles don't match what they tell you about themselves. Their photos don't correlate with how they've described themselves to you or their English might be poor.

They ask you for money and concoct an elaborate back story as to why they need it. They may wait weeks or months to do this. Their messages will become more persistent, desperate and direct as they insist on money.

They always have an excuse as to why they can't meet you face to face or why they always need more money.

To find out how to protect yourself from love scams, head to scamwatch.gov.au.

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