As online dating and introductory services become more popular, the ACCC has recorded a 30 per cent increase in the number of people reporting dating and romance scams.

This Valentine's Day the ACCC is warning those looking for love online to beware of scams after more than 550 consumers contacted the ACCC in 2009 increasing from 430 in 2008.

ACCC acting chairman and chair of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, Peter Kell said scammers take every opportunity to prey on peoples' vulnerabilities.

"Scammers target victims by creating fake profiles on internet dating sites, chat rooms or introductory services and they go to great lengths to establish a trusting relationship with victims," Mr Kell said.

"These scammers then prey on the victim's emotional vulnerability by representing that they wish to travel to Australia or are in urgent need of money and ask for help to pay for airfares, passport, family hospital bills and other costs."

In one example a woman exhausted her savings and took out an extra loan to support an online friend through a series of urgent medical treatments. After building a close rapport with the man, she sent $95,000 over six months but was suddenly unable to make contact and ended up losing her house due to financial difficulties.

In another case a man paid for airfares and other expenses for a friend he had met online to visit Australia. On several occasions she didn't arrive but made convincing excuses about why the travel arrangements fell through. Attempts to recover the money resulted in further losses.

Mr Kell advised consumers to take extra precautions when meeting someone online:

  • Only give personal details to persons you know and trust.
  • Be wary of anyone who you have not personally met that asks you to send them money, gifts or your banking and credit card details.
  • Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity.
  • Carefully assess people's profiles.
  • When you agree to personally meet, tell family and friends where you are going.
  • Keep your computer updated with the latest anti-virus and anti-spyware software and use a good firewall.

Increasing numbers of Australians are falling victim to scams, especially online. Online dating and romance scams are a significant part of this growth in scam activity.

Mr Kell said while the number of reported scams is significant, there are many more scams that go unreported as people may feel embarrassed.

"This embarrassment factor is particularly true for dating and romance scams."

The ACCC will highlight the dangers of online scams during the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce's upcoming 2010 Fraud Week campaign. The key message of this year's campaign, which will run from 1 to 7 March, is Online Offensive—Fighting Fraud Online.

The ACFT is a collective of government agencies which work together to enhance enforcement activity against consumer fraud and raise awareness of scams within the community.