This Valentine’s Day, Police are encouraging people to look after their money and their hearts, as romance scammers continue to try different ways of targeting people hoping to be lucky in love.
Millions of dollars are lost each year in love scams, which seek to take advantage of people looking for a relationship, especially online.
“Many Kiwis have been scammed by fake love interests, and some are unwittingly helping very convincing online sweethearts fund criminal activity,” says Detective Superintendent Iain Chapman, National Manager, Financial Crime Group.
Police's Financial Intelligence Unit estimates New Zealanders who get tricked into passing their money to love interests lose tens of millions of dollars annually to these scams.
“It’s an issue that not only affects people from all walks of life but takes many forms,” says Detective Superintendent Chapman.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, anyone can fall prey to a scammer – it’s far more common than you think."
Generally, the scammer pretends to be in a relationship with someone online in order to get them to hand over money. They do this through email, social media, dating websites and other websites and apps. Usually these scammers are pretending to be someone they’re not, often using photos and identities of people they’ve found online.
Recently, Police have had concerning reports of (usually elderly) people asking bank tellers for advice on how to use bitcoin, or victims being instructed to buy large quantities of iTunes gift vouchers.
Scammers are also taking advantage of COVID-19 and asking their online partner for money under the guise of assistance.
Millions of people turn to online dating apps or social networking sites to meet someone. But instead of finding romance, many find a scammer trying to trick them into sending money.
"Many people who have been scammed are too ashamed to make a complaint, as they may feel embarrassed or silly about getting 'taken in'," says Detective Superintendent Chapman.
"As a result, a significant number of these scams are grossly under-reported. It’s believed millions are lost each year and never reported.
“What we’d say to those people is that it’s important to report it and there’s no shame in letting us know if this has happened to you.
“It’s important that we can get as much information about these scams and those running them as possible, so we can prevent this type of thing from happening to more people and hold those responsible to account wherever possible.”
RED FLAGS TO BE AWARE OF
• People who always have excuses about why they can’t meet you in person or even video call
• Those who are often in a hard to reach place (e.g. working on oil rigs, in the military, working overseas)
• People who seem to always have a sob story (e.g. a child or family member is sick), and there's always a degree of urgency.
Police, along with our partner agencies such as Netsafe, continue to encourage you to take the time to stop and think for a minute when you're confronted with a possible scam situation.
Here is some advice:
REVERSE SEARCH AN IMAGE
You can use Google’s reverse online image search of photos to reassure yourself. If the suspect profile photo appears under different names, you may have caught yourself a scammer.
On a computer or device:
• Navigate to the Google Images main page.
• In the search bar, click on the camera icon with the alt ‘search by image’. This will give you a new search display offering you two options.
• Option 1 is ‘Paste Image URL’, which allows you to use the URL from an image you have found on the internet.
• Option 2 is 'Upload an image’, which allows you to upload an image from your computer to use as the search item.
• Whichever option you choose, after entering the URL or uploading the image, you simply click search to display the results.
HOW TO AVOID A SCAM
• Listen to your instincts – if something feels wrong then it generally is.
• Be cautious about who you communicate with online.
• Avoid giving out personal details that could be used to impersonate you.
• Never send money or gifts to a potential partner you haven’t met in person.
• Stop communicating with the person immediately.
• Talk to someone you trust, and pay attention if your friends or family say they’re concerned about your new love interest.
• Contact Netsafe for free and confidential advice if you feel something isn’t quite right www.netsafe.org.nz
FINAL THINGS TO REMEMBER
• It takes a lot of time and energy to build a relationship online, and can make the relationship seem very real.
• Scammers will have a fake family history, job, even friends may be non-existent.
• They’re often scamming more than one person at a time.
• Once they’ve worked to gain the trust of the person they’ve targeted, scammers will use various stories to get money or details from that person.
• Scammers are getting smarter and their methods are becoming more sophisticated.
• They are preying on people’s insecurities, and in some instances, appealing to people's loneliness or a desire to help out.
If you believe you are the victim of a scam you can contact Police and report the matter via 105.
The best way to avoid a broken heart this Valentine’s Day is to talk to someone you trust and ask for help if you are at all concerned about an online romance.
Visit consumerprotection.govt.nz/general-help/scamwatch/ for more information on how you can prevent yourself, family and friends from being scammed.
Issued by Police Media Centre