The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been investigating online scammers who use dating sites and romance services as a feeding ground. In 2013 alone, Australians lost $25.3 million to the shysters.
The ACCC reports that they've received 2770 complaints, with more than 400 people saying they'd lost in excess of $10,000. In fact, 64 people reported losing more than $100,000. And shockingly, 43% of people who came into contact with dating and romance scams lost money – one of the highest conversion rates of scams reported to the ACCC.
Popular scams include convincing users to part with their personal details or money, which is often sent overseas and is unrecoverable.
“Scammers go to great lengths to gain your trust, spending months and even years building a relationship with you. Once your defences are lowered, they spin an elaborate tale about how they need your financial help with a crisis, such as being ill or stranded and ask for money,” says ACCC Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard.
“These scams can also pose a risk to your personal safety, as scammers are often part of international criminal networks. Scammers have lured unwitting Australian victims overseas, putting people in dangerous situations that can have tragic consequences.”
CHOICE member uncovers a scam
One CHOICE member believes she stumbled on such a scam when using RSVP. “I was married for 33 years when my husband died,” says Alice (not her real name). “A friend suggested going on to dating sites to meet someone. My instinct told me to be careful, so I set up a fake email address.
“The very first person who contacted me was a scammer. I complained to the site about him, and six weeks later they told me they had removed all of his profiles from their site. So I moved to eHarmony, and guess who I found there?”
Dating website reviews
Two million – the most
popular online dating site,
according to recent figures.
Who’s on it: Roughly 50/50 female
and male; 48% of members
are aged between 26 and 40, while 34%
are between 41 and 60.
Cost: It’s free to become a member, view profiles and see the last four
people who viewed your profile,
and to send and accept virtual kisses,
which are expressions of interest.
Users need to buy stamps to email
others, which expire within one to 12
months and cost between $4.59 and
$11.69 each, depending on quantity
bought and expiry period.
allows unlimited free contact for 30
days between two members.
RSVP also has two premium
membership services, RSViP Priority
(from $6.65 to $14.90 per month,
depending on length of membership) and
RSViP Private (from $8.32 to $24.90 per
month). Both allow members to access compatibility scores and reports, see all
members who viewed their profile in
the past 21 days and have non-expiring
stamps and more emailing options.
Priority members are also highlighted and
appear at the top of search results, while
private members have the option to keep
hidden until they choose to allow others
to view their profile.
Approach: Free users enter the gender, age range and location of those they’re
looking for and can view the results
immediately, but don’t get any hints
as to whether they are compatible. Paying
members get access to compatibility
data, and so may have a better shot at
a good match.
Privacy: Signing up to an RSVP account
and agreeing to its privacy terms and
conditions in effect grants permission
for your personal information, including
photos and email addresses, to be used
for “any purpose”, which may include
advertising or transmission to a third
party. While all sites we looked at track
your activities using cookies, RSVP even
shows other users how often you’re on
the site and who you’re looking at.
Experiences: “I met my current partner
there,” says Mary*. “We’ve been together
about four-and-a-half years, have a two-year-old daughter and are getting
married next year.”
* Not her real name.
Australian members: More
than a million, according to
an eHarmony spokesperson.
Who’s on it: About 51% males
and 49% females; most
members are aged in their 20s and
30s, but there are also a large
number of older users.
Cost: There are three
levels of membership.
Users can create a free
account to receive a
personal profile, view
daily matches and have
limited interaction with
their matches, such as
sending a smile or a limited
number of set questions.
Basic aying members are charged
from $19.95 a month for a 12-month
membership to $59.95 month for a one-month
membership. They can request and view photos of matches, see who
has viewed their profile and when their
matches last logged in, and communicate
with confirmed matches.
members pay from $23.95 a month for
12 months to $39.95 per month for three
months. They get all basic plan features
plus are able to phone their matches
without revealing their phone
number via a service
called Secure Call.
They also get a
selling point is its
to finding love online.
New users fill out a
in which they rate their
own appearance and
personality as well as
features in a relationship
and partner. The answers
form their personality
profile, which is then used
to find matches using the so-called
“29 dimensions of compatibility”.
Privacy: By posting information and
photos on a profile page or any public
area of the eHarmony website, users automatically agree to have that
information perpetually owned and
used by eHarmony for such purposes
as advertising. Users’ contact details
may be shared with third parties for
advertising, but opting out is possible
by changing certain settings or notifying
eHarmony of your request in writing.
Experiences: Jane* says: “eHarmony
doesn’t [let you join] if you’re separated
but not divorced and doesn’t seem to
make it so easy to chat. And no-one seems
to have a current photo of themselves!”
* Not her real name.