The competition watchdog and online dating industry will crack down on fraudsters exploiting lonely hearts next year, after more than 1600 Australians reported losing $17 million in the online search for romance this year, up from $15 million last year.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is asking the online dating and romance industry to comment on draft guidelines for cleaning up the industry.
"Online dating and romance scams cause significant harm to Australian consumers, targeting people from all walks of life, education, background and age group," the regulatory body said.
"These scams typically involve a genuine user of a dating website being contacted by a potential admirer who is a scammer in disguise. After forming a relationship with the victim, the scammer plays on emotional triggers to get the victim to provide money, gifts or personal details."
A group of industry representatives has been working on draft guidelines since July. The ACCC's announcement comes just days after a story emerged of a NSW-based doctor who paid $3 million over several years to an online dating agency in the belief he was helping a potential girlfriend.
The ACCC would like dating agencies to provide customers with warnings about scams, and verify online profiles to "detect and disrupt the activities of those seeking to engage in fraud". It also wants dating agencies to set up internal complaint handling procedures.
Comments were sought by December 16 and the ACCC expects to launch new guidelines in early 2012.