The following post is provided by the Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA), World Council's direct member organization in Australia.
The prolonged impact of COVID-19 on psychological wellbeing is emboldening romance scammers, says financial crimes expert Leanne Vale of the Customer Owned Banking Association.
“While absolutely necessary to containing the transmission of the virus, new stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne will see these criminals poised and ready to strike with new tricks to target people who are emotionally vulnerable or eager to escape the reality of lockdown,” said Vale, COBA's Financial Crimes Director.
Romance scams have increased with the arrival of COVID-19 and are on track to overtake 2019 numbers. Scamwatch has reported 2,027 romance scams with losses of almost $20 million.
“Romance scammers are also looking for victims to act as ‘money mules’, moving stolen funds by using their bank account. Many unsuspecting Melburnians will welcome the opportunity for a warm conversation or just someone to chat with over the months ahead. But the reality is that the progression from chat to professing love and asking them for money or to help them move money is far quicker,” said Vale.
A former police officer and 30-year veteran working in the field of financial crimes detection and prevention, Vale is advising people to “beware the trap” as lavish compliments and false promises are just some of the hallmarks of a romance scammer.
“We don’t see the true extent of romance scams as many people are too ashamed to report the scam. Doing so would end the reality and burst the bubble. While initially attractive, this activity leads to a dark place which is self-harmful,” said Vale.
Statistics for 2020 also bust the myth that romance scams only target older generations, with a quarter of cases now reported by people under age 34.
“Scammers are going beyond traditional dating websites to nurture relationships on Instagram, Facebook, and a range of social networking platforms and apps which are not intended for romantic liaison. They are flying beneath the radar," said Vale. "These scammers start slowly and groom the person over time. In many situations, the person is one small piece in a large ecosystem of criminal activity. Looking at all types of scam activity for the year, we are about to pass 81,000 reported cases with losses in excess of $77 million. These are exceptional times, and we need alert minds.”
National Scams Awareness Week runs from 17–21 August in Australia.