Online Dating & Internet Fraud

With internet dating becoming more commonplace, there are lots of people online looking for love, and unfortunately some of them will fall victim to online dating fraud. At NSW Private Investigations we keep up to date with the advances in technology and the increasingly sophisticated dating scams that are out there, allowing us to help all kinds of people who are suspicious about their online friends.

There are many subtle signs that could mean you are the victim of one of many online dating scams, and things to look out for include:

  • Anyone asking for money, gifts, or personal information
  • Being pushy and expressing strong emotions early on
  • Claiming to be from your native country yet always away on business or holidays
  • Arranging meetings then cancelling at the last minute
  • Very glamorous or glossy profile pictures
  • Poorly written e-mails that are non-specific

If you are concerned that someone is scamming you, perhaps because they have asked you for money or you’ve already sent something, then it’s essential to get professional advice, and we can help investigate the person you are talking to with just a few details. The whole process is as discrete as possible, the other person doesn’t even have to know about it, and we can give you a full report as to whether they are who they claim to be.

With many people posting photographs and personal information online, another common problem can be catfishing scams. This is where someone will claim to be someone they are not, or even put on a completely fictional persona to get others to fall for them. This can be for financial gain, or can be done through boredom or cruelty. Either way it can be devastating for victims who have their emotions toyed with.

If you suspect that you are the victim of any kind of dating scam then we can help. Simply give us a call for some free advice and to find out your options from there.

What are online auction & shopping scams?

Scammers can pretend to be selling a product - often very cheaply - just so they can steal your credit card or bank account details. Similarly, they may take your money but send you a faulty or worthless product instead - or even nothing at all.

Most online auction sites put a lot of effort into spotting scammers, which is why scammers will often try to get people to make a deal outside the auction site. They may claim that the winner of an auction that you were bidding in has pulled out, and then offer the item for sale to you. Once they have your money, you will never hear from them again and the auction site will not be able to help you.

Another common trick is for an online auction to be rigged by the scammers. If you are selling a product, the scammer can enter a low bid followed by a very high bid under another name. Just before the auction closes, the high bid will be withdrawn and the scammer’s low bid will win. If you are buying a product, the scammer can arrange for ‘dummy bidders’ to boost the price up.

Other online shopping scams involve the sale of a product - such as a miracle cure or weight loss product—that does not live up to its claims. It can be very difficult to get your money back in these situations, especially if the other party is based overseas.

If you buy or sell online, you should also be aware of cheque overpayment scams.

Warning signs

  • A product is advertised at a very low price.
  • The seller and any initial bidders have a very poor rating on an auction site.
  • The other party wants to complete the sale outside of the auction site (if you do this, you lose any protections that the site operator offer to their users).
  • The other party insists on immediate payment, or payment by electronic funds transfer or a wire service.
  • The online shopping website does not provide adequate information about privacy, terms and conditions of use, dispute resolution or contact details.
What are dating and romance scams?

Dating and romance scams try to lower your defences by appealing to your romantic or compassionate side. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details.

Scammers target victims by creating fake profiles on legitimate internet dating services. Once you are in contact with a scammer, they will express strong emotions for you in a relatively short period of time and will suggest you move the relationship away from the website, to phone, email and/or instant messaging. Scammers often claim to be from Australia, but travelling or working overseas.

They will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as sharing personal information and even sending you gifts. Scammers may take months, to build what seems like the romance of a lifetime and may even pretend to book flights to visit you, but never actually come. Once they have gained your trust they will ask you (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts or your banking/credit card details. They will pretend to need these for a variety of reasons.

For example, they may claim to be in the depths of despair due to financial hardship or an ill family member.

In other cases, the scammer might start off by sending you flowers or other small gifts then will tell you about a large amount of money they need to transfer out of their country or that they want to share with you. They will then ask for your banking details or money to cover administrative fees or taxes to free up the money. WARNING – This may be money laundering which is a criminal offence: never agree to transfer money for someone else.

Alternatively scammers may claim to have fallen ill or been involved in a serious accident. They will then ask you for money to pay medical bills or travel expenses to visit you. In some instances you may even be contacted by someone claiming to be their doctor.

Regardless of how you are scammed, you could end up losing a lot of money. Online dating and romance scams cheat Australians out of millions every year. The money you send to scammers is almost always impossible to recover and in addition, you may feel long-lasting emotional betrayal at the hands of someone who you thought loved you and was trustworthy.

Warning signs

  • You meet someone on an internet dating website and their profile picture or photograph looks different to their description or like it’s from a magazine.
  • After just a few contacts they profess strong feelings for you and suggest moving the conversation away from the website preferring email, instant messaging and/or phone instead.
  • After gaining your trust, they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details.
  • They continue to ask you for money, but never actually visit you.
  • If you don’t send money straightaway, their emails and calls will often become more desperate, persistent or direct.
  • The email is poorly written, vague or contains specific information taken directly from news articles, repeats itself, you are addressed by the wrong name, or the email is not personally addressed at all.

Protect yourself from dating and romance scams

ALWAYS consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam, particularly if the warning signs listed above appear. Try to remove the emotion from your decision making no matter how caring or persistent they seem.

Talk to an independent friend, relative or fair trading agency before you send any money. THINK TWICE before sending money to someone you have only recently met online or haven't met in person.

NEVER give credit card or online account details to anyone by email.

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 or to target you with a scam.

If you agree to meet in person, tell family and friends where you are going. If this includes overseas travel, consider carefully the advice on before making any plans.

Where possible, avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer. It is rare to recover money sent this way.

If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

Money laundering is a criminal offence: do not agree to transfer money for someone else. If you have contact us immediately for some free advice.

Grooming scam victims

What is grooming?

Grooming occurs when a scammer tries to build a trusting relationship with you by making regular contact. Groomers aim to extract greater amounts of money or sensitive personal/financial information than they could via a single contact. Scammers will attempt to convince their victim that they are their friend or in some cases, a romantic interest.

Groomers will initially try to gather as much information as possible about you, often via casual conversations over the phone, email, letter, instant messaging, social networking websites, dating websites or chatrooms. They are often very patient and will communicate with you for days, weeks, months or even a year in order to perpetrate the scam.

Scammers use a variety of grooming tactics. In dating and romance scams they will profess strong feelings for you after just a few conversations. They will then try to appeal to your caring, loving or generous side, asking for money to help overcome a make-believe unfortunate situation.

In the case of unexpected prize scams, if you respond to an initial offer, the scammer will groom you by sending more offers. They will keep your hopes alive by promising that your prize/s will arrive soon. All the time they will make the prize/s sound too good to be true in order to maintain your interest and ongoing payment.

Scammers may also use fear tactics to encourage you to make ongoing payments. In the case of psychic and clairvoyant scams, the scammer may groom you by warning you of a false future event and then promising to protect you from that event in return for ongoing payments.

Another example of a grooming scam occurs when you fall victim to a scam and provide money. Following payment, you are contacted out of the blue by either the same or another scammer posing as a law enforcement officer or a private investigating body. The scammer will tell you that you have been scammed and will request payment so that the law enforcement body can investigate the scam to try and retrieve the money. Alternatively they may claim that they have caught the initial scammer and that you are entitled to a refund of the money you lost if you first pay an upfront fee.

In many cases, once the scammer has successfully groomed you and gained your trust, they will attempt to alienate and isolate you from your family, friends and colleagues. This is a tactic to make you feel more reliant on the groomer and to remove any interference which others may cause in the scammers plans to defraud you.

Warning signs

  • You are approached by a stranger via phone, email, letter, instant messaging, social networking websites, dating websites or chatrooms and they ask you personal questions during what they want you to believe is casual conversation.
  • If you have met a groomer via an online dating service they will tell you they have strong feelings for you very early in the ‘relationship’.
  • The groomer offers up fake personal information during your conversations in order to gain your trust. They may claim to be in the same situation as you or share similar interests. They may even speak of fake unfortunate events which have befallen them in order to make you feel like helping them.
  • After a period of communicating for days, weeks or months the scammer will request money, gifts or personal, financial or credit card details.

Protect yourself from grooming

  • Consider what personal information you share and post on social/business networking services. Scammers use publicly-available information to identify potential victims to groom.
  • Don’t accept a social networking friend or follow request from a stranger - the best way to keep scammers out of your life is to never let them in.
  • Where possible, avoid any arrangement with a stranger who asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
  • If you think you have provided your account details to a groomer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
Please remember that we are here to help you and after all it’s only a question and the staff members at NSW Private Investigations are more than happy to answer your questions.