Romance scam victims are not just losing the money they send to con artists, but suffering significant ongoing financial losses.
Jan Marshall, aged 62 from Melbourne, fell in love with a scammer posing as a British engineer working in Dubai and transferred amounts totalling $260,000 in late 2012.
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If something doesn't seem quite right, stop and ask yourself: Do I really know who I am dealing with? Vision: ACCC
On top of using her savings and obtaining multiple credit cards, she drew money out of a self-managed super fund.
"I was not allowed to take money out of that fund. I have to pay tax on that money at the rate of 46.5 per cent, so I've ended up with an additional bill of over $75,000," she said. "I can never pay that money."
In the lead up to Valentine's Day, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has revealed 2620 Australians reported losing $22.7 million to romance scams to the watchdog in 2015.
But the ACCC's deputy chair, Delia Rickard, said the figure most likely represented one-tenth of the true loss and did not show the level of ongoing financial losses.
"We hear people who borrow against their house and end up losing their home, people who access their super, people who borrow from friends and family and never able to pay them back, leading to a huge breakdown in relations," she said. "They are left devastated, all alone broke, usually in debt."
She said it was very rare for victims to ever recover money they have sent overseas.
In 2015, 43.5 per cent of victims were female, 39 per cent were male, and 17 per cent did not disclose their gender. Most of the victims were 45 to 55 years of age.
The amount reported lost to the ACCC fell from $27.9 million in 2014, and individual losses also decreased.
Since mid-2012, the ACCC's Scam Disruption Project has sent more than 6000 letters asking potential victims sending money to high risk countries such as Nigeria to reconsider.
About three-quarters of those contacted ceased sending money for at least six weeks.
"Scammers are experts at preying on people's weaknesses and will spend months and even years grooming victims and lowering their defences," Ms Rickard said.
"Inevitably, the fraudster will spin a tall tale about why they suddenly need your financial help, ranging from medical emergencies to failed business ventures to needing to rebook flights to visit you."
About one-quarter of reported romance scams began on social media, in particular, Facebook.
"The ACCC is looking to work with social media platforms to keep romance scammers off their sites and to help users recognise when they are being scammed," she said.
Ms Marshall, who now runs a scam survivor support group, met the scammer on website Plenty of Fish in the hope of finding a companion she could explore her new city with.
Despite communicating with him only via email, phone and text, she fell in love with ''Eamon Donegal Dubhlainn" and they became engaged.
It was only when she had exhausted her funds and had not heard from him for two days that she realised she had been scammed.
"These people have the skills to manipulate and make you fall in love. I was in shock, I couldn't understand how this had happened to me," she said.
- Never provide your financial details or send funds to someone you've met online. Scammers particularly seek money orders, wire transfers or international funds transfer as it's rare to recover money sent this way.
- Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided as scammers often use fake photos they've found online.
- Be very wary if you are moved off a dating website as scammers prefer to correspond through private emails or the phone to avoid detection.
- Don't share photos or webcam of a private nature. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using this material to blackmail victims.
- If you think you have fallen victim to a fraudster, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and report it to www.scamwatch.gov.au