Roses are red, violets are blue, hand over your cash or I promise we're through

Just in time for Valentine's Day this weekend, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has advised extra caution amongst romantics and IT administrators alike on the back of figures suggesting that more than 2500 Australians lost some $22.7 million to dating and romance scams last year.

That's a 19 percent decline from the $27.9 million lost to lovestruck victims in 2014, with fully 32.9 percent of those reporting such scams lost money in the exercise. Email was used to deliver the scams in 25.3 percent of cases while 23.9 percent of reported scams were perpetrated through social networking platforms or online forums. Some 4.3 percent of scams were carried by text message and, interestingly, 4.7 percent were delivered via mobile app.

The rise in use of mobile apps for scams reflects their growing usage amongst online daters – who are increasingly exposing themselves to scams and theft of personal information thanks to apps that are often unscrupulous when it comes to personal information.

Application-management vendor Flexera Software, for its part, recently reported the results of its tests of 25 dating apps and found widespread access to personal information.

Fully 88 percent of the apps were capable of accessing a device's location; 60 percent can access social-networking apps and SMS; 36 percent can access the device's calendar; and 24 percent can access its address book. Flexera's analysis also found that 76 percent of the apps support ad networks – opening a potentially problematic conduit to users' devices.

The results of the study highlight the often unchecked flow of information out of an organisation, Flexera vice president of product management Maureen Polte said in a statement. “Most IT operations professionals do not have the faintest idea what apps are loaded onto employees’ BYOD devices and whether those apps behave in a way that the organisation would deem risky,” she said.

“That’s why we recommend that organisations centralise their application readiness processes to test all apps, including mobile, that will be hitting their networks – allowing IT operations teams to ‘blacklist’ any they deem to be in violation of their policies.”

The ACCC, which collects and publishes the statistics as part of its Scamwatch effort, has been proactively working to reduce Australians' susceptibility to scams, with its Scam Disruption Project already sending more than 6000 letters to past victims asking them to consider stopping; fully 75 percent of recipients stopped sending money for at least six weeks.

“Romance scams continue to cause significant emotional and financial harm to the community,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said in a statement. “We know these figures are only the tip of the iceberg as many victims are reluctant to admit to friends, family or authorities that they fell for a scam.”

Age played a big role in measuring susceptibility to romance scams, with 10 percent of reported scams coming from those in the 18-to-24 age group compared with the 28 percent in the 45-to-54 bracket.

Increasing age was also correlated with the size of the financial loss, with just 2 percent of scams reported by 18-24 year olds involving a financial loss. This jumped to 25 percent of scams in the 45-to-54 bracket.

Older Australians were the most likely to suffer financial losses due to romance scams, with 37 percent of those aged 55 to 64 suffering financial losses despite that age group comprising just 20 percent of reported scams. Similarly, 13 percent of over-65s reported financial losses despite accounting for just 9 percent of reported scams.

NSW residents were most likely to be taken for a financial ride, accounting for 25 percent of the reported scams and 31 percent of the losses; Tasmanians, by contrast, accounted for 4 percent of reported scams but reported just 2 percent of losses.

The organisation recently updated best-practice guidelines designed to help the online dating industry fight back against online scams.

The ACCC “encourages their adoption by any dating site that has not yet taken steps to protect their users from scammers,” Ms Rickard said. “If online dating sites don’t have advice about safe dating practices, then consumers should carefully consider whether those sites have their best interests at heart.”

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