8 October 2014

Romance scammers are incorporating increasingly realistic looking social media accounts into their scams, including stealing photos from legitimate users to present genuine looking profiles.

If you receive unsolicited emails or other messages that hint at a relationship or romance, you should immediately be suspicious that it is a scam. Do not respond.

Romance scams often start with casual requests for contact. It could come through email, social media, an online dating website or many other possible channels. Sometimes these requests are quite subtle, seeking friendship or a chat, while other examples can be quite forward and more explicit, such as the recent example below:

Hi my name is Hanna just trying to meet new people online while i am here on this site. I am looking for some good and honest friends or maybe more than friends who can take care of me and love me understand me and protect me. If you are interested to know me better just hit me up okay. I will wait you and do you have phone number or IM yahoo Messenger so that i can text you and and then i can send my naked pics. Hope you like them am looking forward to hear back from you again.

This email example included an attached photo [removed] of ‘Hanna’ as well as links [removed] to her fake social media accounts which featured realistic content and other photos. The photos were stolen from a real person’s Tumblr site (a popular micro-blogging platform and social networking website).

Spam messages such as this can be sent to thousands or even millions of potential victims.

Romance Scams

Romance or online dating scammers aim to establish an online relationship with a victim, with a view to eventually convincing the victim to send them money.

Online dating sites and services are common starting points for scammers, but they will also use any other options available, such as email or social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as mobile apps like Tinder.

Developing social media profiles around a fake identity and adding stolen photos of real people helps make their scams seem more convincing.

Once a conversation has started, the scammer will seek to build the relationship and win the victim’s trust. Eventually there will be a request for money. Typically this is couched in an entirely understandable need, such as a medical emergency or simply to purchase tickets to visit the victim.

Requests for money can be slowly introduced and may take many months to emerge. Requests are usually carefully disguised to avoid suspicion. Scammers may even deny initial offers of money.

With romance scams already notorious, scammers are aware that making requests may arouse suspicion. They will operate carefully and take time to gain trust.

In some cases, if a victim has become suspicious and refuses to send money, scammers have resorted to threatening, intimidating or even blackmailing their victim.

If you are ever asked for money through a relationship you have online, or if you suspect you are the victim of a scam, contact your local police.

More information

You can watch our video about Joan, the real-life victim of an online dating scam.

Read our alert about common Valentine’s Day scams.

SCAMwatch also provides detailed information on avoiding dating and romance scams.

Stay Smart Online has information on managing spam, and avoiding scams and hoaxes.

You can report spam to ACMA.

The information provided here is of a general nature. Everyone's circumstances are different. If you require specific advice you should contact your local technical support provider.

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Disclaimer

This information has been prepared by Enex TestLab for the Department of Communications ('the Department'). It was accurate and up to date at the time of publishing.

This information is general information only and is intended for use by private individuals and small to medium sized businesses. If you are concerned about a specific cyber security issue you should seek professional advice.

The Commonwealth, Enex TestLab, and all other persons associated with this advisory accept no liability for any damage, loss or expense incurred as a result of the provision of this information, whether by way of negligence or otherwise.

Nothing in this information (including the listing of a person or organisation or links to other web sites) should be taken as an endorsement of a particular product or service.

Please note that third party views or recommendations included in this information do not reflect the views of the Commonwealth, or indicate its commitment to a particular course of action. The Commonwealth also cannot verify the accuracy of any third party material included in this information.

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