Aussies bled out over $37 million to catfish scams in 2020

February is the worst month for romance scams in Australia.

In 2020, Australians lost roughly $37 million (AUD) to romance scams.1 And for all you lovers out there, catfishing hits its high in February, where almost 400 people lost about $6.1 million last year.

To help put romance scams asunder Down Under, we analyzed data from ScamWatch (The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) and surveyed Aussies to learn about their experiences with catfishing.

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Are romance scams and catfishing the same things?

Both romance scams and catfishing involve using a fake online identity to lure in unsuspecting folks. For this report’s purposes, we’ll use the two words interchangeably.

Specifically, romance scams involve financial or social gain through a perceived romantic relationship. But catfishers can pose as potential friends, family members, or career connections without romance.

Why do they do it? For those not in it (strictly) for the money, catfishers self-report they’re lonely, lack self-esteem, want to explore their identity, or have a simple desire to escape their regular lives.

Statistics and facts about romance scams in Australia in 2020

Which states lost the most to romance scams?

In 2020, New South Wales reported more romance scams than any other state, losing about $12.8 million to lacklustre love. Queensland lost $9.4 million to catfishing, while Victoria’s 663 victims lost $7.1 million.

These three states combined lost nearly $30 million of Australia’s $37 million catfishing losses in 2020. How can we prevent romance scams from skyrocketing in 2021?

What Aussies should know about romance scams

Scammers will get a grip of your heart and then find a way into your finances. Catfish will either get personal information and access or ask to exchange money or gifts. (If they can’t afford to travel to see you one time, maybe you should try dating local instead?)

Romance scams can play out in a variety of ways, but knowing some common catfish factors can help:

  • Most romance scams are reported in February: While there’s plenty of fish in the sea, for romance scammers, Valentine’s season is more like shooting fish in a barrel. 
  • Most romance scams start on social media: Social media’s seductive accessibility springs up scandalous possibilities across the globe—is that new wealthy, attractive follower even real? Probably not.
  • Unsurprisingly, scammers had the least luck catfishing via fax. Though dating with the outdated technology might seem odd, we’d still be wary of strangers offering to fax you straight away.
  • The most commonly-scammed age group was 45-54-year-olds. In this age range, folks didn’t grow up using the internet, so it’s less likely that they’ll recognize the signs of scams amid Facebook reunions.

While some may think catfishing only affects gullible, wealthy men, women made up 73% of total catfish victims.

When asked in a survey, Aussies said:

  • 1 in 4 say they’ve been a victim of a catfish scam
  • 38% know someone who’s been a victim of a catfish scam
  • 40% are worried about catfishers on dating apps

Tips to protect yourself from catfishing online

Catfishing may lead to stalking, stealing, and all sorts of shady behaviour. Here are some tips to protect yourself.

Know the warning signs

  • Inconsistent, brand new, or otherwise strange profiles or behaviour: Having overtly-sexual usernames or long number sequences may signal that the profile is just for scamming purposes.
  • Quick to love: Why would a person who’s never met you confess their undying love? Always give yourself time to vet any potential dating options.
  • Hard-to-understand messages: If you can’t have clear communication with someone, are you sure you want to invest time, money, or effort in them?
  • Elaborate stories: Nothing seems to be simple. There’s always a complication followed by either a request for something (money, gifts, etc.) or an excuse why they won’t see you in person.

Protect yourself and take action

  • Never send money to strangers (doing business online is one thing, but paying for someone’s rent before you’ve met them is another)
  • Ignore and remove all contact with suspicious people online
  • Report any suspicious profiles or behaviour on social media apps (this helps prevent other uses from getting scammed)
  • Report any crime to the local authorities or alert Scamwatch (you might not recoup your losses, but you will contribute to the growing awareness around catfishing)

While it’s easy to have a bit of fun at the expense of eternal love, romance scams can seriously subvert a person’s trust and fudge with their finances. To all you lovers out there: before setting a date, take the time to make sure Cupid’s arrows are aimed at your heart, not your wallet.

Methodology

Using data from ScamWatch (The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission), we found out how much money Australians lost to romance scams and the number of reports from victims. Also, we surveyed 1,000 Australians to gain insight into their catfish experiences.

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