Welcome to the first ‘Around the traps’ article for 2022! Here’s hoping for a bright new year for all while we wish a fond farewell to 2021. From a fraud and scams perspective, we must not forget the important lessons we’ve learned already and continue to educate ourselves to protect our personal information and accounts.
In 2021 Australian’s lost $280 million to scams1.Scammers can take advantage of people in many different ways and while some of them may be obvious, others are so inconspicuous you may not realise you’ve been scammed until it’s too late.
There are many different types of scams where fraudsters will attempt to steal your money through various tactics, but in this article, we will focus on romance scams, that is, where scammers prey on the hearts of their victims and start fake relationships for their financial gain.
This is the second in a series of case studies developed to illustrate the tactics of scammers and the effects on their victims. I hope you find this series informative and use the tools provided to protect yourself and your loved ones from scammers.
Terry, aged 61, from Miranda, Sydney, enjoys playing chess online after work. One afternoon, Terry was playing chess on the Chess Online app and was contacted by one of his opponents, Jenny, complimenting his chess skills. The two started talking through the app’s chat function, and after a while, Jenny suggested they move the conversation to a private messaging service, WhatsApp, to get to know each other better without anyone else interfering.
After messaging for a few weeks (Jenny avoided taking voice and video calls), Jenny told Terry that she was developing strong feelings for him. Terry was flattered and shared the same feelings as Jenny. Jenny said she would love to meet in person but that she couldn’t afford the airfare from Brisbane where she lived, as she’d just had to pay an expensive hospital bill for her son who had an accident at work. She asked Terry if he could pay her airfare. Terry, eager to meet Jenny, transferred $150 into the bank account she provided and was excited when she told him she’d booked her flights for the following week.
A week later, Terry drove to Sydney airport to pick Jenny up, but after waiting an hour and a half after her plane had landed, there was no sign of her. He messaged her through WhatsApp to check that she was ok, but there was no reply. A day later, a seemingly distraught Jenny replied to Terry, saying she couldn’t get on the flight because of a family emergency. There had been a complication with her son’s surgery following his accident at work. Jenny told Terry that the airline didn’t have a free cancellation policy, so she couldn’t get the money back. Terry, concerned for Jenny and her son, told her not to worry about it and asked if he could do anything to help. Five minutes later, Jenny messaged Terry saying her son was back in the hospital, and she had no means of paying for his surgery. Terry felt terrible and hated to see Jenny go through this. Terry did not have a lot of savings, however, he offered to pay for her son’s surgery and that night transferred $10,000 into Jenny’s account.
Terry and Jenny’s online relationship continued for another year after this, despite never meeting each other face to face. Whenever they planned to meet in person, something came up in Jenny’s life that led her to cancel. Jenny continued to ask Terry for money for different issues, sometimes small amounts and sometimes more significant amounts and Terry, blinded by excitement of having a romantic interest who he shared a connection with, always transferred money to different accounts she had given him. It never occurred to Terry that Jenny wasn’t real. He had been a victim of a romance scam.
In 2020, 3,708 Australian’s reported being the target of a romance scam2. It’s estimated that in the same year, Australian’s lost $131.9 million to romance scams3. Unlike other types of scams, romance scams can go on for a long time, and victims are often unwilling to admit they’ve been scammed because of the emotional attachment they develop to their romantic interest. Many victims are also embarrassed to admit they’ve been scammed.
If you think you’ve been targeted as part of a romance scam, contact us as soon as possible. You can also make a report to the Australian Cyber Security Centre, and we recommend that all your devices are cleansed of viruses and malware, and the latest security is installed.
Many financial institutions have dedicated teams to support victims through the process following a scam, including reporting the scam to the authorities and attempting to recall lost funds from other institutions, as well as replacing account numbers, updating passwords and security or contacting reporting agencies in the event of compromised photo ID.
To protect yourself from romance scams, always remember:
- Never send money to someone you’ve never met face to face. Ask to meet them in person in a public place (and tell a friend where you’re going) or over a video call. If they are who they say they are, they won’t mind.
- If you’re talking to someone online but have never met them in person, try and drag some images from their social media profiles into Google Reverse Image Search. If they appear in other places on the web, they might not belong to the person you’re talking to.
- Always be cautious when sharing personal or intimate photos with someone you haven’t met in person. If they are scamming you, they may use these to blackmail you in future.
- If you start talking to someone online, such as on a dating app, social media or a game, avoid moving the conversation to an encrypted app or site like WhatsApp. Scammers prefer to communicate through encrypted apps or services because it’s harder for victims/targets to report them to site moderators.
Watch below for more about romance and dating scams.
For more help on how to stay safe and secure and avoid becoming the victim of a scam, visit the Qudos Bank Fraud Hub.
If you have been targeted as part of a scam, contact Qudos Bank immediately on 1300 747 747 (Monday – Friday 7 am – 7 pm and Saturday 9 am – 5 pm). If you believe you have received a hoax or fake email, please forward the scam details to fraudwarnings@ qudosbank.com.au.
If you have been a victim of a romance scam and are struggling emotionally, contact Beyond Blue or Lifeline for professional counselling.
The case study above has been created for illustrative purposes only but is based on real life experiences.
1 Scam Watch
2 Scam Watch
3 Scam Watch
Qudos Mutual Limited trading as Qudos Bank ABN 53 087 650 557 AFSL/Australian Credit Licence 238 305. The information in this article is of a general nature and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on the information, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances.