Romance scammers conned more than double the money out of Bay of Plenty residents in 2020 compared to the year before.
Netsafe data shows the average loss per victim in the Bay of Plenty, including Rotorua, was $26,900 in 2020 compared to $9905.78 the year before.
Scammed residents lost $29,717.35 total in 2019, which could be considered pocket change compared to last year’s combined losses of $134,500.
Nationwide, Netsafe says a total of $3,434,816 in losses were lodged with them last year and the average loss per victim was $18,667.
The online safety organisation’s chief executive Martin Cocker said a lot of effort goes into romance scams, with scammers often taking six months before asking for money.
“In romance scams, it’s often a very long time between the start of the relationship and the request for money,” he said.
“They get to the point where they trust the person and their guard is lowered and that’s where they can ask for money.”
Netsafe data shows a typical victim of a romance scam in New Zealand is a European female aged between 41 and 61 who lives in Auckland.
University of Waikato department of computer science senior lecturer Vimal Kumar, who heads the group Cybersecurity Research of Waikato (CROW), wasn’t surprised.
“It seems like a lot of people who are more vulnerable to these kinds of scams are middle-aged well-educated women, mostly,” he said.
“People who are looking for love, with Valentine’s Day around this time of year, people can be stressed and this makes them more vulnerable.
“I think if you use the internet extensively, social media apps, dating sites, you’re more vulnerable.”
Elsewhere, Cocker says the pandemic pushed a lot of people online who otherwise might not have been ready to go there and because in-person interactions were not possible.
And when people are isolated, opportunities are missed by friends and family to uncover scams and raise concerns with people.
“You think that you’re not having your Sunday meal with your parents and therefore they’re not talking about the things that have happened in their lives,” Cocker said.
“I think some of those opportunities where people intervene and assist have gone, as well as this greater push to online technology [use].”
People can avoid being snagged by romance scams by never responding to requests or hints for money from someone they haven’t met in person.
Netsafe also has a raft of free resources available online that can help people understand what to look out for and a team who can provide free advice.
Kumar says scammers are experts and people should look for signs something is amiss.
“Trust is the keyword here, they are trying to build trust as quickly as they can. Then they’re going to start coming to their end game,” he said.
“The thing to look out for is how does the story escalate? It will have some sort of an end game if you can see that, which is hard when you are personally involved.
“If there is even an iota of doubt in your mind, I would suggest talking to a third person who can look at it from a neutral point of view.”
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