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Tips to avoid romance scams (relationship fraud)

Scammers create fake profiles on dating sites, social media and gaming sites. They use these fake profiles to contact you and try to hook you in through social media sites like Instagram or Facebook and some gaming sites.

Scammers use these fake profiles to try and convince you to enter a relationship with them. Their ultimate goal is to convince you to give them your personal details and money.

Signs of a romance scam

  • The scammer will say they live somewhere offshore or are travelling for work (e.g. they work for the military, United Nations or Doctors without borders; or are located on a ship or an oil rig).
  • Scammers quickly profess their love or share personal stories, to try to manipulate your emotions. They may even send gifts.
  • Scammers will ask to move communications to a private channel such as email, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Signal.
  • Scammers are highly communicative - they send numerous messages and emails.
  • Scammers usually avoid video chat and have excuses to not meet you in person.
  • Once they’ve developed your trust, scammers will ask for money to help with illness, injury, travel costs or a family crisis. Another thing they’ll do is to try and get you to join an investment scam, e.g. a cryptocurrency or bonds scams.
  • Scammers will claim to be financially solvent and give elaborate stories about needing help or money to access their wealth.
  • A scammer’s tone may change from affectionate to desperate or threatening if you don’t agree to their requests.
  • Scammers may ask you to break the law, e.g. launder money or transport illegal goods.

Ways to work out if it’s a scam

  • Search for someone’s alias online and see if it appears in stories from other romance scam victims.
  • Do a reverse image search on Google or TinEye of any profile photos, to see if they have been used before.
  • Review any dating or social media profiles for inconsistencies.

Tips for how to help someone in a romance scam

It can be hard to convince one of your friends or family they are actually communicating with a scammer, even if you can clearly see the signs.

  • It’s important to show empathy and it may take time for them to accept that they are communicating with a scammer.
  • Have the conversations in a private and comfortable setting where possible.
  • Ask questions to challenge their thinking such as “You’ve known each other for a while now, why have you not been able to video chat? Have you ever met them face to face? Don’t you wonder what they look like in person?” or “Have you done any independent research on the investment opportunity they’ve suggested?”
  • It is natural for a scam victim to dispute that the romance is a scam and you are unlikely to change things in one conversation. Do not give up, keep the conversations going.
  • Be calm, patient, and supportive. Be there for them and do not judge or belittle them.
  • Warn the victim not to share personal pictures or videos. Scammers are known to blackmail their targets using compromising material.
  • Leave physical printouts of any evidence of a scam (see information below) with the victim so they can consider your reasoning in their own time.
  • Don’t focus on making them think they’ve made a mistake or claim “I told you so” when they realise they have been scammed.
  • You may wish to seek advice from a professional counsellor on how best to have these conversations. They may also help you address any problems the scam may be causing in the victims’ broader relationship group.

Case Studies

A CEO who couldn’t work due to Covid-19 - $5,000 loss

John got connected with a potential love match called Amalia on a dating website. After exchanging a few messages, Amalia insisted they move their conversation to WhatsApp. Eventually, she asked to borrow money. She claimed to be a CEO of a company but was unable to work due to Covid-19. John had developed very strong feelings for her and wanted to help. He took out a loan of $5000 and transferred the money. It wasn’t long before she continued to give reasons to ask for more money. John became suspicious when her pleas for money became more desperate. When John said he couldn’t give more money, his love interest disappeared.

An engineer with bad luck - $110,000

Sarah met someone on Facebook who was working in Belgium as a cable engineer. He said he lost his wallet underground and needed gift cards to buy his colleagues food. Sarah sent thousands of dollars of cards. Soon after he asked Sarah to transfer money from his bank account for supplies he needed to complete his job. He said he didn't have access to his account and gave Sarah his account details. Sarah followed his instructions and sent the money but his bank account was then blocked. A week before he was to finish the contract there was an accident and he was hospitalised for four weeks. He needed money for medical expenses so Sarah took out a loan for $25,000. He was on his way to the airport to visit Sarah when he assisted a man with his bag who needed to attend to his young daughter, and he was arrested as the man’s was bag full of drugs. He spent seven months in detention. Sarah took $20,000 from her mortgage to assist with his bail. She sold her car and took out another loan to pay towards his bail and lawyers’ fees before her love interest suddenly stopped contact. Sarah was left heartbroken and in financial debt.

If any of the above seems familiar to you or you suspect someone you know is being scammed, please contact WA ScamNet on 1300 30 40 54.


Last updated July 2023