INTERACTIVE: million-dollar Valentine

Forget Nigerian princes - Australians are being scammed by catfish, with almost $A9 million being lost to romance scams in the six months leading up to Valentine’s Day according to ScamWatch.

However, ANZ’s dedicated scams unit believe the losses could in fact be higher than $A9 million because reporting incidents to ScamWatch is voluntarily and the responsibility of the victim.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

The unit has investigated transactions relating to $A3.7 million of scammed money since August 2017 – but only a little over $A750,000 was able to be recovered. Most cases go unreported as the customer is embarrassed and often can’t accept what has occurred. 

"Unfortunately, losses to romance scams cannot always be recovered.”

In the majority of romance-scam matters investigated by ANZ the unit has detected the customer making payments rather than the customer calling to self report.

Valentine's Day is one of the busiest times for online romance scammers who may prey on lonely hearts online. 

Men are more likely to be the target of such scams but women are losing more money with $A2.24 million currently under investigation. Women also appear to stay involved with the scammers for longer periods. 

Approximately 54 per cent of all victims are over the age of 55, a trend reflected in many other scam types. Over 80 per cent of romance scams occur online with 24 per cent over social media.

ANZ research shows customers in New South Wales have been the worst scammed, with 33 case reports in six months. The Northern Territory and ACT are the most cautious of their hearts with only one case each.

Scammers typically use a false identity to capture interest and build an emotional connection by revealing personal information, sending gifts or promising to visit. Unfortunately losses to romance scams cannot always be recovered.

Experts say once a scammer has gained trust, they’ll often ask for money either directly or - more subtly - by saying they have a sick relative who needs money for treatment for example.

Don’t go breakin’ my heart

A case study of romance scams in action

In 2017, the ANZ scams unit was referred a payment which was headed to Turkey for investigation. 

It was discovered the customer had sent close to $A200,000 via international transfer over an extended period.  The team contacted ‘Evan’, who advised his partner, ‘Pamela’, owed money overseas and had got herself into some trouble.

The unit discovered Pamela was based overseas and Evan had been speaking to her for more than a year but had never met her in person. The online conversations had been normal until Pamela began discussing issues about her employment.

Pamela had allegedly got herself in a situation with some people she had borrowed money from.  They had taken her identification documentation and were holding it for ransom.  Unless she was able to get her identification returned, she wouldn’t be able to fly to Australia to be with Evan. Evan made some initial payments at Pamela’s request, who asked for more and more money to be sent. 

Eventually, Pamela claimed to have recovered her documentation and now needed money to fly to Australia to be with the customer. 

When the unit advised Evan they believed he had been caught up in a romance scam and would be stopping the latest payment, he refused to believe them or allow them to stop and recall the payment as he was convinced she was moving to be with him.

Approximately two weeks later, Evan contacted the team very distressed.  He had been to the airport on multiple occasions to collect Pamela, who’d provided flight numbers, but on each occasion she hadn’t turned up. The team spent time with Evan providing support but unfortunately only a small amount of funds were able to be recovered on his behalf.

If you think you, a family member or friend has been scammed, report it immediately to the ACCC via the ScamWatch website. If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

Catriona Noble is Managing Director of Retail Distribution, ANZ.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

05 Feb 2018

The new commandments for online

Erica Hardinge | Head of Security Enablement, ANZ

We’re learning more about the impact of the dark side of the net on our kids.

06 Feb 2018

On the other side of the internet (there is a person)

Lynwen Connick | CISO, ANZ

On Safer Internet day, it’s important to educate ourselves and our kids on using the internet safely – but the tools we use also have role.