“Love’s labour lost”. Don’t lose your heart or your wallet this Valentine’s Day

Stan Gallo Partner Forensic
Stan Gallo, Partner Forensic

Lonely heart cyber scams are big business with The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission receiving more than 4100 reports of dating and romance scams last year.

Recently, while travelling in an Uber, the women driver told me a story about how she had lost her entire divorce settlement to a man she was ‘dating’ online for a couple of years (without ever actually meeting him). But it is all good now as she has met (and is dating) a former US policeman (now retired) who will look into it for her once he finishes up a couple of things he is working on.

I asked where/how she met the ‘retired policeman’….

Through a myriad of social media apps, posting sensitive personal information online is increasingly becoming the norm. Unfortunately, this means two things; the baddies know more about you than you may realise and that you ultimately trust the information they provide you – after all you have told the truth. Okay maybe you’re a little older than your recorded age and the pic you posted was taken when you are at your groomed/radiant best. Or there’s always Photoshop – after all even the models in the magazines do that right…and they wouldn’t embellish at all – would they?

With a growing range of apps and online sites promising everything from a casual hook-up to a lifelong relationship the likelihood of people being scammed only increases. Whilst not wanting to put a dampener on it, it is timely to think about those who would take advantage of vulnerable and lonely people – the people that are left at the end of these scams are often a shattered mess, emotionally and financially.

There are lots of examples of full blown online relationships where the participants have never met, and yet one is blindly and willingly ‘supporting’ their partner by sending cash in multiple international transactions. Hard earned cash to someone they haven’t met based on online data and, more recently, some telephone conversations whereby this person professes their love and admiration.

Think Catfishing – online scams where people are not what they seem. This is a growing industry.

Police cite examples where they visit (predominantly elderly) people who are sending money to known scammers.  Even after they are advised that it’s a scam, the people continue to send more money, sometimes going into debt to keep paying.

When there is nothing left (except love) – the contact mysteriously disappears…

Online scams are not just a ‘casual job’, for the scammers this is a career – and a profitable one too.  I recall some years ago now a guy I knew had a stunning girlfriend. Her job was to go on ‘dates’ with men who were making noises about withdrawing their subscriptions from a dating site.  Whilst it wouldn’t work out with her, this would give them hope and they would continue to pay…

My Uber still has faith in her policeman – I told her not to accept any requests for payment of ‘expenses’ for the ‘investigation’. She says she can’t afford to – she went from her $300k settlement to renting a unit and driving an Uber in order to eat.

Here she was telling me (a complete stranger) the whole sordid tale – which in itself says something.  So while we are more connected than ever it seems many have never felt more lonely and isolated

So what can you do to keep you safe online and in love?

  • Be aware of your online profile and what information you are making public (even on ‘private’ dating sites)
  • There are many examples of people who have met online and have very successful relationships. So use reputable sites/apps. Be informed and do your research.
  • “Its fine as we just talk online” – that’s great if that’s what you both want and it stays that way, but if the conversation turns to money (as in ‘I need some’) before you have met, the red flags should go up.  Predators will spend time grooming their mark (as cold as its sounds that is the reality) and won’t launch into $ conversations until a solid rapport is established.
  • Meet the person – get to (really) know them before making any decision that involves you handing over your hard earned dollars.
  • As a method of finding love, online apps and websites are now just another accepted avenue. Like any online activity (and indeed just like finding love in the real world), there are risks associated and you need to be cautious.

Finding true love – by whatever means – involves some risks.  It is critical to effectively manage them in order to avoid the pitfalls when going for the brass ring.

So in the words of the great romantic, Shakespeare,

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

Then all that is well will end well and your romance will not be a tragedy on Valentine’s Day.

Stan Gallo

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