A fool and his money are soon parted, but a lonely person with an internet connection can be separated from so much more, so much faster.
More than 4,200 New Zealanders reported losing close to NZ$4 million to scams in 2012, up from NZ$2.27 million from 5,514 people in 2011, according to figures released on Monday by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment-led Consumer Fraud Working Group.
Dating and romance ruses reaped the bulk of the reported losses, fleecing 135 lovelorn souls of NZ$2.27 million — an average of more than NZ$16,000 each. It was up from NZ$900,000 in 2011.
"These scams can see the victims emotionally devastated and lose their life's savings. Three people lost over NZ$100,000 each last year," said NetSafe operations manager Lee Chisholm.
It is just the tip of the iceberg, as such scams were hugely under-reported, she said.
Ms Childs told NZ Newswire that she would never describe the victims as foolish, but they were vulnerable to very clever scammers.
"Scammers think of something different pretty much every day, but the themes are pretty much the same."
Fraudsters usually befriend vulnerable people online and request money in dribs and drabs, but then it could build up to needing a bit more money to deal with a tragedy or pay for a visa to visit.
The scams could be carried out over up to 18 months.
"The scammers are very patient."
Ms Childs recommended that people looking for love online look a bit closer to home so they could easily meet the other party in person.
The ministry figures show that in all scams — such as bank phishing, cold calling, internet products and hacking, lottery and competition — 727 people lost money, an average of $5,465 per person.
Despite 1,309 fewer scams being reported in 2012, losses to investment-related scams, such as boiler room fraud, rose 77 percent, seeing the total lost rise by NZ$1.7 million.
"People that fall prey to investment scams can lose very large sums of money — with three people losing more than NZ$150,000 each," said ministry spokesman Jarrod Rendle.
The ministry said that getting the money back depends on each case, but once it is sent overseas, it is much harder to retrieve.