According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last year Australian romance scam victims lost a total of $24.6 million.
And that’s just the reported cases; victims are often too embarrassed and ashamed to admit they’ve been conned.
Victims aren't always just losing what’s in their accounts either. Some are taking on new debt in the name of love — opening up credit cards and even getting payday loans to solve someone else's ‘medical emergency’ or ‘family loss’.
So how is it that people fall victim to these scams?
Long standing member, Amy, shares with us her experience with a romance scammer; giving us insight into the complexities around these highly sophisticated scams.
After a successful career as a public servant and with her divorce long behind her, Amy was in a position where she wanted to meet someone special to share her life with.
“I was feeling lonely and wanted someone to do things with. I wanted to go out for dinner, to the movies, for a walk – anything like that. I was really getting tired of doing things on my own.”Amy
Amy decided it was time to get proactive in her search for love, so she joined the world of online dating.
“I spoke with a few men on dating sites, but nothing eventuated, and I started to feel doubtful that I would find a connection with anyone, ever again.”
It wasn’t until Amy received a Facebook friend request from a man named ‘Brian’ that her interest was sparked.
“Brian told me he was on duty in Afghanistan and was looking for friends to keep him company. I instantly felt compassion for him, thinking about how lonely he must’ve been, stuck in the middle of nowhere. So, I accepted his friend request.”Amy
Their friendship very quickly blossomed, and soon Brian was messaging Amy regularly.
“Brian and I clicked on a lot of issues. He was so funny, and his philosophies on life were very similar to mine. He just seemed like a really nice bloke.”
But after just a couple of weeks, Brian confessed his love to Amy.
“By that time, I felt like we had formed a strong friendship but nothing more. So, I decided to back off a little, which Brain didn’t respond well to. He was angry and upset, so I ‘unfriended’ him and stopped all communication.”
It didn’t take long before Brain reached out to Amy again, sending her another friend request on Facebook. At first, Amy was reluctant to accept, but after a few days decided to make amends.
“We started talking again because I did actually like him. I really did. And he was so different to anyone I’d chatted with before. For example, he was very well tuned to army life. All the things he said about the Army were all very logical. He even sent me selfies with his troops behind him and our conversations were always interesting.”
Months flew by and Amy continued to chat with Brian every day. Their friendship was flourishing into something more and it was the happiest Amy had been in a long time.
“Brian made me feel absolutely happy and wanted. I just couldn’t wait to meet him. He made me feel so loved.”
It was around this time Brian told Amy that his housekeeper and son had been involved in a terrible road accident.
“He told me that his housekeeper and son were in hospital and he needed $3,500 to get them out because he couldn't access his money from the Middle East.”
Amy didn’t know what to do, she wanted to help Brian but didn’t feel comfortable sending him money. So, she told Brian that she couldn’t help him financially but would be there to support him emotionally.
“This is when Brian totally changed and started sending me things like:
‘Just do it! Do you think I would ask you for the money if I couldn't pay you back? I'm definitely going to pay you back.’
‘Why are you being so cruel to me? I thought you loved me!’
‘Please, I just want to see my son! Why are you such a horrible person?’”
It wasn’t long before Amy finally gave in to Brian’s psychological abuse and agreed to send $3,500 through an International Transfer.
The breaking point
Luckily, the payment was flagged as suspicious by our fraud team and the transfer was stopped. Dominic, our Fraud and Disputes Manager, called Amy to discuss the circumstances of the payment and his suspicions were quickly confirmed. Unfortunately, he and the team have seen plenty examples of romance scams and informing members is a tough task.
Dominic says “One of the most difficult aspects of my role is telling people I think they're involved in a romance scam. They don't believe it, at least not at first, but why would they? In their eyes they’re happy in love and don't want to hear otherwise, especially from someone they don’t really know. It's emotionally challenging for both parties! I really wish I didn't have to make the calls but preventing financial and further emotional losses makes it worth it.”
So Amy received the call from Dominic…
“It was hard to believe what Dominic was telling me because I was so in love with Brian. I guess I was quite defensive at first, but Dominic told me that I should do a reverse Google search on the images Brain had sent me to check. So I did, and there was the face I had fallen in love with all over the place. Once I had seen that his photo was definitely used by other scammers, it was only then I truly believed I’d been scammed.”
Amy immediately cut off all contact with Brian, which wasn’t easy as she had developed a strong emotional connection to him.
“Weirdly, I missed our conversation even though I knew he was lying to me, but I knew I had to move on. I've suspected a couple of times since; he’s created new Facebook profiles to make contact with me. Obviously, I know the warning signs now, so I never accept anyone that I don’t know. This whole experience has been incredibly emotionally turbulent, and I just don’t know how I could’ve been so manipulated.”
How’s Amy now?
Unwilling to let the experience deter her, Amy has since found a loving partner online who she spends most weekends with.
“He's a gorgeous man that lives not far from me.”
Think you’ve been scammed?:
Find out more tips on how to protect yourself from scams on the ASIC Money Smart website. Read more of our Scam Awareness articles.
This is general advice only and doesn’t take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Conditions, fees and lending criteria apply and are available on request.