Guard against financial losses, especially from ‘Tinder swindlers’

Romance does not come cheap this year, with billions expected to be spent around the 14th of February all over the world on high ticket gifts. But such a high-grossing calendar day brings opportunity aplenty for scammers and con artists to seize the day.

The latest Netflix craze, “The Tinder Swindler”, follows the story of Simon Leviev, a trickster who preyed on women looking for love by posing as a billionaire son of a Russian-Israeli diamond tycoon. He bought the women lavish goods, flying them by private jet to luxury hotels around the world and professed his love – then demanding they send him money.

“There are many lessons for those in love to learn from this show,” says Tarina Vlok, MD of Elite Risk Acceptances, a subsidiary of Old Mutual Insure. “Most importantly, remember if you make use of dating apps, short-term insurance policies will more than likely not compensate you for any financial loss you may suffer as a result of a dating app scam.”

Locally, there are many examples of scammers preying on lonely hearts, making off with millions in the process. Last year a Cape Town-based businesswoman and owner of a successful public relations firm lost R5 million to a romance scam.

Furthermore, a USA study suggests that Americans will lose $800M to romance scams in 2022.

“Although there is a perception that scammers predominantly use online dating apps, the reality is that there are scammers everywhere. Many thieves even scour social media sites and the internet, waiting to make a move. Syndicates for example can easily get your location if you post a picture of your new and shiny engagement ring online using popular hashtags, and plan a robbery,” says Vlok.

She says that theft and con-artistry is a huge risk for Valentine’s Day in South Africa – whether online or in real life – especially for those with deep pockets and looking for love, and its best to take adequate steps to guard against it.

“Lovers hopeful for a bit of romance this Valentine’s Day need to be careful of becoming targets, especially because it is easy to let down your guard, whether you are feeling in love and wanting to share your new gift like a diamond ring with the world, or if you are vulnerable and recently experienced a breakup.

“The luxury industry is booming; with handbags, watches and diamonds all in demand, with jewellery sellers reporting a surge in sales.  But a major pitfall is when lovers get swept up in the moment, and fail to adequately and immediately insure these items. Or they underinsure their purchase. This is when it becomes especially painful to experience a financial loss like theft,” explains Vlok.

Luxury sales are up as per Richemont, Burberry and Prada earnings’ reports. On top of this, De Beers recently pushed through one of its most aggressive diamond price increases in recent years as the world’s biggest producer of stones cashed in on a buying frenzy for uncut gems.

So how can lovers, hopeful for a luxury gift, whether in the form of a diamond ring, Burberry handbag, Prada shoes or even a Cartier watch from their beloved, protect their hearts, and their pockets, this Valentine’s day? Below are Vlok’s top tips.

  1. Don’t tell anyone how much your gift cost. Keep this between you and your insurer only and ensure you can prove ownership (keep the valuation certificate from the jeweller in a safe place, or send a copy of the receipt to your broker or insurer).
  2. Make sure that you keep these items safe. Talk to your broker or insurer to find out if you must keep them in a locked safe while they are not worn.
  3. Remember that any gift that you buy, belongs to you until you hand it over to the recipient. If your beloved does not share your home, please talk to your broker or insurer to find out how you can combine your insurances if you wish to.
  4. Don’t share pictures online, on social media or on Whatsapp groups of your new gift, especially if you got engaged or celebrated an anniversary and were lucky enough to get a new sparkly piece of jewellery. This information is easy for criminals to get their hands on, and then to use against you.
  5. If you have a designer piece of jewellery, talk to your insurer about the possibility of having any repairs or replacements done by your jeweller of choice in the event of a claim.
  6. If you make use of dating apps, please be vigilant. Short-term insurance policies will more than likely not compensate you for any financial loss you may suffer as a result of a dating app scam.