Kiwis lost $7.9 million to online romance scams during the first three months of 2018.

Online safety organisation Netsafe's first-quarter report showed that 205 people reported being defrauded by a romantic scam.

The amount lost during the first quarter is higher than the $1.4m in total losses reported to Netsafe last year.

Sean Lyons, director of technology and partnerships at Netsafe, said that while it's difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for the increase, it was likely because there has been an increase in scam attempts.


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"There's always the chance that as we put out there that we are a place that takes scams and we are a service that can assist people ... more people are reporting to us," Lyons said.

"But, the truth is, the likelihood is there are just more and more of these kind of attempts to defraud people."

Lyons said the romance scams today are a lot more sophisticated than what they used to be, making them increasingly harder to spot.

"It's a lot more sophisticated. There often a lot more evolved, they [scammers] do a lot more to convince people that they are legitimate," he said.

Romance scammers are also prepared to play the long game until their victims fall in love and have no reason to believe they are being conned.

"It's sometimes years with no real attempt to defraud them, and then suddenly when somebody brings up money after that length of time, you think 'there's no way this is a scam'," Lyons said.

"When they [scammers] do finally go for what their looking for it seems legitimate, and anyway, you're head over heels by that stage and the last thing in the world you want to do is think their [the scammers] out to get you."


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Lyons said the notion of older, lonely people falling victim to these scams isn't necessarily correct.

"That happens to all sorts of different people at all sorts of different times in their lives," he said.

"With the right conditions, or rather the wrong conditions, we can all fall victim to these kind of scams."

Lyons said others that are vulnerable to romance scams are those who've had a partner walk out on them, or someone who has recently thought about their sexuality.

"There's a scam for all seasons," Lyons said.

"Scams hit people and when they are not the right conditions you look at them and you cast them off as nonsense, but when they hit something or tweak a nerve, that's when it becomes successful."

Romantic scams made up nearly three quarters of the $12.5m of losses reported to Netsafe.

Identifying romance scams:

Moving quickly: Confessions of love or strong feelings within a short time of meeting the person online.

Personal troubles, that can be solved with money: If your new love mentions health problems, family issues, business troubles or other issues that could be solved with money.

Requests for money: You should be wary of any request for money.

Changes in communication style: If there are several scammers taking turns to maintain the relationship, their writing styles may change.

Be wary if they're hesitant about meeting: If a new romantic contact is not willing to meet up, talk via video call, or comes up with a series of excuses to avoid meeting, you should be cautious.

Financial assistance to meet in person: Also be careful about offering or giving the person money so that they can meet you in person.

Reverse image search: You can check if the images they've sent you are being used publicly online in other places using the instructions explained on the Netsafe romance scams page.

How to avoid romance scams:

• Be cautious about who you communicate with online.

• Don't respond to requests or hints for money.

• Never send money to anyone you don't know or haven't met in person.

• Avoid giving out personal details that could be used to impersonate you.

• If you think you're being scammed, stop all contact and avoid sending further payments.

• Contact Netsafe for free and confidential advice if you feel something isn't quite right.