Posters encourage relationship fraud reporting

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Consumer Protection has used National Consumer Fraud Week to launch an initiative, which involves posters being distributed to police stations and wire transfer outlets across Western Australia in a bid to prevent relationship fraud victims from sending money to overseas scammers.

The posters have been produced as part of Project Sunbird – a joint anti-fraud initiative with WA Police.Since its inception in 2012 Project Sunbird has sent more than 2,150 letters to suspected relationship fraud victims in WA who have been sending funds to West Africa (e.g. Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo).

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll says the results are significant.

“Up to six out of 10 stop sending after getting that letter. In response to the letters 176 people contacted Project Sunbird officers based out of WA ScamNet and it is astounding to find their total combined monetary loss is $10,500,000.”

‘Request for money’ scams, often termed ‘advance fee frauds’ by authorities, usually involve fake online and phone personas that the victim has never met face-to-face.

The Commissioner said there was a clear need to raise awareness within communities.

“We know that relationship fraud victims often attend their local police station to seek advice about an online friend or love interest. They also go to wire transfer outlets to send money overseas.

“The best way to reach these people and get them to contact Project Sunbird is to have the phone number (1300 30 40 54) and website address (www.scamnet.wa.gov.au/projectsunbird) displayed in those places.

“With the assistance of the Major Fraud Squad we have been able to distribute our new posters to police stations across metropolitan Perth and remote and regional WA.

We have also been engaging with wire transfer outlets including post offices and are linking up with Community Resource Centres, financial counsellors and other community stakeholders.”

The success of Project Sunbird is being monitored by other states and territories and the activities may be mirrored elsewhere in Australia.

Consumer Protection is one of 23 government agencies that make up the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce.

The Taskforce's 2014 National Consumer Fraud Week campaign, ‘Know who you’re dealing with’, focuses on relationship scams and helping Australians learn how to identify, avoid and disengage from scammers. Here are the top five tips:

  1. You’ve never met or seen them: scammers will say anything to avoid a ‘face-to-face’ meeting, whether it be in person or over the internet via a video chat – don’t excuse it away.
  2. They’re not who they appear to be: scammers steal photos and profiles from real people to create an appealing facade. Run a Google Image search on photos and search words in their description to check if they’re the real deal.
  3. They ask to chat with you privately: scammers will try and move the conversation away from the scrutiny of community platforms to a one-on-one interaction such as email or phone – ‘walk’ away if this happens to you.
  4. You don’t know a lot about them: scammers are keen to get to know you as much as possible, but are less forthcoming about themselves. Ask yourself, ‘how well do I really know this person?’
  5. They ask you for money:  once the connection’s been made – be it as a friend, admirer, or business partner – scammers will ask you to transfer money. Don’t fall for a tall tale, no matter how plausible it sounds.

To coincide with the campaign, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched its fifth Targeting Scams annual report, which reveals that dating and romance scams moved to number one position in terms of financial losses – reports to the ACCC equalled more than $25 million lost. These statistics do not even include WA ScamNet figures.

For more information, visit www.scamwatch.gov.au/fraudweek2014.

END OF RELEASE

(Consumer Protection is a division of the Department of Commerce)

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Media Contact

Consumer Protection
Media release
20 Jun 2014

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