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'Devastating' internet romance scams soar by nearly 40% in New Zealand, Netsafe warns

They're not just breaking hearts but your bank account too.

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Netsafe CEO Martin Crocker said the sophisticated ploys are taking an average of $20,000 from victims. Source: Breakfast

Incidents in which scammers target people looking for love are on the rise, prompting a warning from Netsafe to be careful about who you open up your heart to. 

It's an elaborate ploy, often spanning an average of six months or longer as scammers work their way into forming a relationship in hopes of a payoff. 

They'll pose as a potential soulmate online, eventually asking to borrow money. Netsafe warns they may even start by asking for a small sum, which they pay back in full before working up to the big bucks. 

With the pandemic pushing more Kiwis inside, many hopeless romantics took to dating online, which is though to have contributed to the nearly 40 per cent rise in romance scams in 2020. 

"While meeting people online can have its benefits, we recommend being cautious when potential cupids start seeking cash," says Netsafe CEO Martin Crocker.  

There's not a small hole left in the pocket of victims either, with the average amount lost per romance scam being an eye-watering $18,667. 

Crocker told Breakfast the emotional and financial impacts felt by the scam are "pretty high" due to how close the scammers get to their victim. 

"It will often be a person's life savings that go into a scam like this, so they're really devastating scams for people." 

European women living in Auckland between 41 and 64 are thought to be the most at risk to falling to romance scams with cash requested in untraceable ways like a prepaid card or money order. 

With elaborate back stories and smooth-talking skills, many scammers will be chipping away at more than one unknowing person at a time, officials say.