ACCC to warn lonely hearts they are paying African crims $25 million a year in banking scam

FROM this week, 400 people a fortnight will receive a love letter of a very different kind — a written warning from the consumer cops that they are being scammed in romance rorts.

The mailout marks the start of the next phase of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's attempts to “disrupt” romance scams costing tens of thousands of victims an amount known to be at least $25 million a year.

“We have to do something more to help people,”
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said yesterday.

The letters will tell people to stop sending money and to contact the ACCC. Recipients have been identified based on where they are sending money (typically western Africa) and how (by wire transfer).

The ACCC is mass-mailing victims after running a trial that resulted in nearly 60 per cent of those it wrote to ceasing transfers.

The watchdog is also stepping up its efforts to prevent people being lured into romance scams in the first place.

From today, it will provide advice on how to identify fake profiles on dating websites. The tips include doing a Google image check on the profile picture, as well as watching for poor English and attempts to move the chat to email and away from the dating site.

For two years the ACCC has been working with dating sites in a bid to “stop scammers reaching people in the first place”, Ms Rickard said. There are anecdotal signs this is working. She said one site claimed that after implementing ACCC guidelines complaints from users dropped to almost nil.

Ms Rickard said the ACCC is now working with banks and wire-transfer businesses in an attempt to prevent money being sent to scammers. This work includes identifying instances where the same offshore recipient is receiving money from multiple people in Australia.

Romance rorts are more successful than many other types of scams, so it may not be surprising that their sophistication and scale appear to be on the rise. And, while they often net large sums from victims, it takes time. To that end, Ms Rickard said that African authorities recently revealed to her that scammers were now able to purchase six months' worth of scripts from enterprises which have sprung up to support cyber shysters. She also said the African authorities were very keen to track down and arrest those committing fraud against Australians.

The ACCC's top five scam identifiers:

1. You've never met or seen them: scammers will say anything to avoid a ‘face-to face' meeting, whether it be in person or over the internet via a video chat (eg their camera isn't working) — don't excuse it away.

2. They're not who they appear to be: scammers steal photos and profiles from real people to create an appealing facade. Run a Google Image search on photos and search words in their description to check if they're the real deal.

3. They ask to chat with you privately: as many dating sites have processes in place to identify and remove scammers, scammers will try and move the conversation away from the scrutiny of community platforms to a one-on-one interaction such as email or phone — ‘walk' away if this happens to you.

4. You don't know a lot about them: scammers are keen to get to know you as closely as possible, but are often less forthcoming about themselves. Ask yourself, ‘how well do I really know this person?'

5. They ask you for money: once the connection's been made — be it as a friend, admirer, or business partner — scammers will eventually ask you to transfer money. It could be after a few weeks, a few months or even years. Don't fall for a tall tale, no matter how plausible it sounds.