Authorities are urging Aussies to be wary of a vicious scam targeting lonely singles ahead of Valentine’s Day after data showed cybercriminals swindled tens of millions of dollars last year.
Police have seized a how-to manual from scammers that details the step-by-step process of a financial scam known as “pig butchering” or “romance baiting.”
Under the scam, offenders will often cold text victims through a messaging app under the premise of friendship and spend months or years gaining their trust before encouraging them to invest in the share market or cryptocurrency.
Scammers often adopt the persona of a good-looking, wealthy “usually Asian man or woman” who has investments in cryptocurrency or the share market, according to police.
“Over the course of months or years, the scammer will flaunt a lavish lifestyle and leave a trail of comments about their wealth, such as bragging about the value in their cryptocurrency wallets,” AFP’s Acting Assistant Commissioner Cybercrime Command Chris Goldsmid said.
“Once victims ask how they are making their money, victims are directed to a complete replica of an investment site that shows the growth of an investment.
“When the victim sends money to invest, victims are provided weekly, monthly or yearly investment statements, that show continual growth in their investment. Often the victim provides even more money to invest.”
Australians lost on average $40 million to romance scams in 2022, equating to up to $109,000 a day or $4500 an hour, according to the latest figures from ScamWatch.
Police have urged people to remain particularly alert in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, warning that scammers may use the event as a promise of a first date or meeting, especially if they have asked victims for money.
Mr Goldsmid said while financial gain was often the key motivation for scammers, some criminals have also convinced people to open bank accounts to facilitate money laundering or traffic illicit drugs.
“Organised crime gangs are manipulating Australians to send money offshore, which could be bankrolling other serious crime,” he said.
Anyone who believes they might be a victim of cybercrime have been urged to report it to ReportCyber or to dial triple-0 in the event of an imminent safety threat.