Millions of dollars a year are being stolen by scammers taking advantage of those looking for love and romance online, says NZ Police.
Detective senior sergeant Chris Allan of the Auckland City District Financial Crime Unit said the organisation was receiving a "consistent stream" of reports about the romance cons.
"We're aware of a repeat pattern of events across all reports where the scammer typically moves the conversation from a reputable dating site to WhatsApp and quickly professes their love and admiration for the victim, before revealing they are a wealthy businessman or military staff who are based overseas," Allan said.
Those who carry out the scam, typically via a dating website or app, are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring and believable, he said. They are also present on most dating platforms.
Once trust has been gained they request financial assistance from the target, with the method of payment depending on the digital proficiency of the victim.
Cryptocurrency is the scammer's preferred method of getting money from their victims, but they are also sent cash or use offshore bank transfers. Handing cash to a money-laundering cryptocurrency trader is another way potential scammers secure funds, police said.
"Our investigations indicate that those who perpetrate these romance scams are predominantly based offshore," Allan said.
"They are typically organised criminal networks who are scamming multiple victims at once. To keep their story on-track when engaging with multiple people, they use the same profile."
That means police often see the same photo being used again and again, with different generic names attached but a similar story.
Allan said there were a number of red flags to be wary of when online data.
That includes people who always have excuses about why they can't meet in person or via video chats, and those who are often in hard to reach places, like working on oil rigs or in the military.
People who always seem to have a sob story, typically about a child or family member being sick, and talk about the need for urgency should also be treated with caution.
Allan said those looking for love should be careful what they post and make public on the internet.
Scammers use social media and dating sites to better understand and target you, he said.
He advised people using data sites and apps to:
- Research the person's photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
- Note if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
If someone believes they have been targeted by a scammer then can report the matter to Police by phoning 105, Allan said.