This Valentine’s Day, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is warning the online dating community to beware of any love interest who asks for money.

“Sadly, $28 million was reported lost to romance scams in Australia last year by 1,032 people. Of this, 81 people reported losing over $100,000, showing just how financially devastating these scams can be. We know these figures are only the tip of the iceberg as many victims are reluctant to admit to friends, family or authorities that they fell for a scam,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“Signing up to dating websites has proven successful for many singles seeking a match. Unfortunately it has also proven popular among scammers who prey on people’s vulnerabilities to steal their money, particularly around sentimental times of the year.”

“Scammers are experts at preying on people’s weaknesses and will spend months and even years grooming victims and lowering their defences. 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,” Ms Rickard said.

“Once victims realise that their admirer is actually a criminal, the emotional consequences can be devastating. This is why disrupting relationship scams continues to be a priority for the ACCC.”

Through the Scam Disruption Project, the ACCC is working to identify victims, contact them and let them know they may be the victim of a scam. We are also working with intermediaries that enable victims and scammers to connect or transfer money.

“These scams can also pose a risk to your personal safety as scammers are often part of international criminal networks. Scammers have lured unwitting Australian victims overseas, putting people in dangerous situations that can have tragic consequences,” Ms Rickard said.

Type of scams reported 1 January - 31 December 2014
Scam category level Amount reported lost Contacts Contacts reporting loss Less than $10k lost $10k or greater lost $100K or greater lost $500k or greater lost Conversion rate
ACT $1 182 520 68 31 19 12 5 0 45.6%
NSW $8 911 557 656 263 162 101 23 5 40.1%
NT $101 485 23 10 7 3 0 0 43.5%
Overseas $1 624 309 219 91 71 20 5 0 41.6%
QLD $5 780 010 544 234 147 87 16 2 43.0%
SA $801 848 142 50 39 11 1 0 35.2%
TAS $328 425 68 23 17 6 1 0 33.8%
VIC $6 811 791 496 228 134 94 22 0 46.0%
WA $2 241 817 266 96 59 37 7 0 36.1%
Not Supplied $120 800 15 6 4 2 1 0 40.0%
Total $27 904 562 2 497 1 032 659 373 81 7 41.3%

SCAMwatch tips

  • 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

The results from the ACCC’s sweep of dating sites have been released today in a short report. Last year, staff joined an international initiative to protect vulnerable consumers by sweeping dating websites for misleading offers, unclear pricing policies or consumer contracts with unfair terms.

See Online dating industry report.

Key areas for improvement include

  • better upfront disclosure of fees, especially by those sites that advertise themselves as free
  • contracts should be easier to cancel – if you can sign up online you should be able to cancel online too, and
  • better practice is for dating site operators not to re-use customer information without express consent.