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12 Oct 2023

Beware the lure of online love

Online Safety - Companionship Sites

The 18th Century model of Casanova is a smooth-talking charmer who has mastered the art of finding, meeting, attracting and seducing beautiful women into the bedroom.

The 21st Century version is a Casanova with the very worst of intentions. A dastardly, deceptive and duplicitous rogue who preys on both sexes. Meet the Romance Scammer. The only thing they plan to fall in love with is your wealth.

Fundamentally, these unabashed con artists usually operate as teams but often pretend to be a single person. They target people looking for a relationship online by pretending to be someone interested in love and romance. As far as they’re concerned, all is fair in love and war.

To attract the people who will become their victims, scammers create fake profiles on dating websites and apps or on social media platforms like Facebook. They tailor these profiles to suit the preferences of the people they are targeting. They go to great, and convincing, lengths to build the illusion of a genuine person looking for an equally genuine relationship. Once the victim starts to trust the scammer, they are then manipulated into making payments, sharing their banking information, or unknowingly participating in drug trafficking and money laundering.


Not only the lonely

Romance scammers try to find people who are trusting and looking for a relationship. They identify their victims based on the personal information they have gleaned from online encounters. The ‘losing’ formula for this fraud is that the more information a person shares, the easier it is for a con artist to use that information for gain. Scammers don’t have a gender bias but the majority of targets are women in the 40 to 65-age bracket, but men are not immune.


Victim impact report

Advocacy Group Age UK reports that 43% of older people – almost five million people aged 65+ – believe they have been targeted by scammers.

The lobbying group American Association of Retired People say the older the victim, the heavier the financial toll. The median individual loss for people aged 70+ and over was $10,000.

Statistics gathered by Age Concern in New Zealand found that in 2015 over $13 million was lost via Internet Fraud. On average, this broke down to nearly $13,000 per victim. In one case an individual lost $2.1 million.


What’s love got to do with it?

Of all the different kinds of cybercrime, romance frauds often result in the greatest financial losses to individual victims. Romance scammers typically start by asking for only a small amount of money. This is a technique used to ease the victim into the swindle slowly. If successful, inevitably this overture will be followed by further requests for increasingly larger sums.

One New Zealand farmer fell for a romance scammer who he met on Facebook and communicated with for several months. Once he had fallen for her routine, she told him she needed money to help her relocate an inheritance of gold. The initial payment made by the victim was $30,000 but eventually, he lost his entire $1.2 million in assets including the family farm.

Doing the donkeywork

Another common type of romance swindle is to seduce people to unwittingly become drug mules and transport narcotics. The initial overtures are the same but once the person is hooked, instead of asking for money they instead are lured into transporting ‘packages’ offshore. Prisons around the world are becoming a new ‘home away from home’ for seniors lured into an unwanted life of crime.

The most important thing to do is immediately stop communicating with the scammer to break the psychological grip they are trying to have on you. Never transfer money to someone you have not met in person. Once money has been transferred, it will be hard or impossible to recover. If you believe you have sent a scammer money, contact your bank immediately to try to freeze or claw back the payment.

When it comes to drug trafficking, the penalties can include life in prison or a death sentence depending on the jurisdiction. Narcotics can be concealed inside of the lining of a suitcase, in canned goods, or in numerous other ways that might apparently make them hard to notice. That is until you’re caught. NEVER transport an item of any kind for anyone.

If you believe you are the victim of a romance scam, you can report this to Netsafe on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723). Alternatively, you can use the New Zealand Police new 105 number for non-emergency situations. However, as always for emergencies you must still call 111.

 How to jilt an online Lothario

The following are warning signals of an impending Scam romance:

  1. Requests to send money to someone you have never met in person.
  2. Excuses explaining why a potential love interest can’t meet you in
  3. Someone struggling to talk in detail about family, friends or interests (this may be a scammer with gaps in their fake personality).
  4. Requests to transport packages of any kind overseas.


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Published: November 2019

Reviewed: September 2022

To be reviewed: September 2025