Beware of Valentine’s Day scams
SYDNEY // Love may be in the air on Saint Valentine’s Day but authorities in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore warned on Monday of an increase in online scams cheating lonely people out of their savings.
Romance scams cost victims more money than any other form of cheating, with those aged over 45 more likely to be stung, said the Australian competition and consumer commission (ACCC).
Victims are lured with promises of love and companionship into giving strangers money, with scammers seeking to contact targets via social media.
“Romance scammers are getting increasingly manipulative so if you are going online this Valentine’s Day to look for love, it’s absolutely vital that you’re able to recognise the warning signs,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
“Scammers create very believable profiles, including stealing the identities of real, trusted people. If you meet someone who seems too good to be true, do some research to see if they’re the real deal.”
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian and Singapore police said 27 people, including 11 Nigerians, were arrested in a joint operation against a syndicate preying on people seeking partners.
The syndicate cheated 108 people in the neighbouring countries out of about 21.6 million Malaysian ringgit (Dh17.8m) in 2016, authorities said in the Malaysian capital.
Evidence seized in the operation included computers, mobile phones and automatic teller cards.
Acryl Sani, director of Malaysia’s commercial crime investigation department, said men and women, including elderly people, had fallen victim to the scam, with 43 from Singapore and 65 from Malaysia.
“We believe there are more such syndicates operating in Malaysia. The police will hunt them and nab the culprits,” he said.
Mr Acryl said suspects found guilty of cheating could be jailed for up to 20 years.
“The syndicate members involved in the romance scam use powerful words and emotions to prey on the lonely victims by using text messages only, and never face-to-face or phone communications,” he said.
David Chew, director of Singapore’s commercial affairs department, said online scams were increasingly complex and transnational.
“To the criminals who think that they could hide behind the cloak of anonymity provided by the internet to perpetrate fraud, we want to send a deterrent message that crime does not pay,” he said.
Last year 4,100 Australians contacted the ACCC’s Scamwatch service to report dating and romance swindles and more than A$25 million (Dh70.45m) was lost – the largest sum for any type of scam in Australia.
Reports of dating and romance scams increased by more than a third in 2016, the commission said, and the amount of money reported lost rose by about A$3m compared to 2015.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: February 13, 2017 04:00 AM