University of Canberra academic Nigel Phair said February 14 was a prime time for online scammers to target unsuspecting victims.
“People are traditionally more vulnerable at Valentine’s Day and Christmas than any other time of year,” he said.
“Internet dating sites and chat rooms are becoming more popular with many singles finding it an easy way to meet new people. Unfortunately, scammers are using these sites to break the hearts and bank balances of online users,” Mr Phair, the director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra, said.
Mr Phair said scammers target victims by creating fake profiles on legitimate Internet dating sites.
“These scammers gain the victims’ trust over weeks and months before reeling them in with requests for money. Scenarios include requesting money to help a sick relative or to pay for airfares so you can meet.”
Mr Phair said Australian residents are losing significant sums of money each year to online scams but there are a few simple steps you can take to avoid being scammed on Internet dating sites.
“Most legitimate dating sites and chat rooms also provide helpful tips on how to protect yourself from scammers,” Mr Phair added.
Tips to avoid being scammed on Internet dating sites:
- Always consider the possibility that an approach may be a scam. Try to remove the emotion from your decision making no matter how caring or persistent they seem.
- Talk to an independent friend, relative or fair trading agency before you send any money.
- Never give credit card or online account details to anyone via email.
- Always guard your anonymity and personal information until you are comfortable with the person. Ask lots of questions and be cautious and selective before providing such information.
- Be wary of emails from overseas-based singles, particularly if they start confessing their love for you within weeks of emailing you and despite never having met you.
- Watch out for personal photographs that are “too good to be true”.
- Be very wary if they start mentioning a financial difficulty or needing financial assistance. Never send money, particularly by wire transfer.
- If you are using a legitimate dating site and feel uncomfortable about the person, report it to the site.
Mr Phair is available for interview.
Contact the University of Canberra media team:
Amanda Powell: (02)6201 5422/ 0408 826 362