Fraud, Scams & Online safety
October 3, 2023
Crime Prevention
How to avoid dating and romance scams

How to avoid dating and romance scams

Before investing too much of your time, money or heart in someone you’ve met on a dating or social media app, do a quick online search of their name and profile pic to see if they’re genuine or a romance scammer.

Online dating is now one of the most popular ways to meet a potential partner in Australia. In 2022, more than 3.2 million Australians used dating apps or visited online dating sites. Some of the most popular ones are eHarmony, Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Happn, Grindr and Plenty of Fish.

While most people who use dating apps are looking for a genuine connection, there are some who have more sinister intentions. Australians lost $40.5 million to dating and romance scams in 2022, with reports to Scamwatch up 8% on 2021 figures. Almost half of these involved scammers with fake profiles contacting their victims via mobile apps and social media. 

So, if you dabble in online dating, here are some tips on how to spot a romance scam and avoid losing your money and your heart. 

What are romance scams?

Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating apps and websites or message you through social media to gain your affection and trust. They are keen to develop an ongoing relationship with you and quickly make you feel special. The relationship moves fast, they play on your emotions, try to make you feel sorry for them, then ask you for money.

What is catfishing?

eSafety Australia defines catfishing as: “when someone pretends to be someone, they’re not by using social media to create a false identity, usually to defraud or scam someone else”.

You would be surprised at how easy it is to pretend to be someone else online and convince others as well. These scammers will:

  • Create fake profiles on legitimate dating websites and apps, 
  • Use fake photos found on Google or free stock image websites
  • Sometimes even steal someone else’s complete identity and pretend to be them, including celebrities. 
  • Have excuses about being overseas, in the military, constantly travelling or caring for a sick relative.
  • Have a sudden need for money and want it sent in way that makes it hard for you to get back.
  • Ask for your private email or phone number.
  • Try to enter into an ongoing online relationship.

How to spot a fake

Romance scammers tend to:

  • Contact you randomly out of the blue.
  • Have a generic profile photo or none at all. 
  • Claim they are travelling, based overseas, in the military or caring for a sick relative.
  • Ask you where you are located.
  • Want to chat outside the app, via text or email.
  • Express strong feelings quickly and talk about “love”.
  • Want the relationship to move fast.
  • Offer to relocate to be near you.
  • Have very few Facebook friends and hardly any likes, comments or shares from other people.
  • Include very little personal information in their profile or posts
  • Mostly post photos of themselves, rather than genuine status updates.
  • Ask you for money for an emergency or a plane ticket.

Outsmarting romance scammers

If a match seems too good to be true, be wary, and follow these steps:

  • Never share personal details, provide your phone number, address or personal email.
  • Ask lots of questions and what for things that don’t add up.
  • Don’t accept friend requests or reply to messages from people you don’t know.
  • Make your social media accounts private and be careful what you post on social media and dating apps. Scammers can use details that you share about your hobbies, schooling, pets, job or family to target you. 
  • Never send money to someone you’ve only communicated with online or by phone. 
  • Run a Google image search on their profile pic to see if the image has been used elsewhere. Scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online or on free stock image websites. 
  • Do an online search of the person’s name or details to see if they are who they claim to be or if they’re using someone else’s identity.
  • Don’t share intimate pictures or videos – scammers can use these to blackmail you. 
  • Stop communicating with them and never chat with them outside the app. 

How romance scammers operate

You may receive a random message on Facebook Messenger or Instagram from someone you don’t know. They seem friendly and keen to start a conversation. You might be flattered, as their profile pic is of someone really good looking. 

They may ask where you’re located.  They’ll talk about how they feel a connection with you or start using words like “love” very quickly. They will want to chat outside of the app via email, text, phone or WhatsApp.

Their profile information seems a bit light on detail. They could be posing as if they’re in the military or travelling overseas to ensure they have plenty of excuses to not meet up with you in person.

Your typical online romance scam builds towards an urgent request for money, but catfishing can just be about psychological manipulation or game-playing.

Get Police Assistance

For all emergencies and immediate Police assistance
Call: 000
To report non-urgent crimes or events 24 hours a day
Call: 131 444
To report information about a crime contact Crime Stoppers on
1800 333 000

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