Cyberspace is full of scammers eager to take advantage of lonely hearts, and posting fake pictures and profiles. Victims have lost on average more than $2,000 in romance scams, the Better Business Bureau warns.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s a timely reminder for people of one of the most devastating emotional and financial swindles: romance scams.
Along with embarrassment, losses are steep for victims, averaging more than $2,000.
Cyberspace is full of scammers eager to take advantage of lonely hearts, and posting fake pictures and profiles or even stealing photos and profiles of real people has never been easier.
According to a Pew Research Center study, three in 10 U.S. adults have used a dating website or app to search for a romantic partner.
A profile is posted, and up pops a promising match — good-looking, intelligent, funny, and personable. This potential mate claims to live in another part of the country or to be abroad for business or military deployment. But they seem smitten and eager to get to know you better and suggest you move your relationship to a private channel like email or a chat app.
This is when the fraudster learns about the victim’s life and builds trust. This stage can go on for months. It may include daily texts or messages. Some scammers even send flowers and small gifts. This also is when scammers may request small favors. They are testing the waters to see how open a victim may be to helping when an “emergency” pops up and the scam kicks into high gear.
That is when they will tell you they need money because of this “emergency.” They’ll promise to pay it back, but that will never happen. Instead, they will keep asking for more until their victim realizes they’re being scammed. Victims have lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Along with asking for money, the other major tip-off to the rip-off is that scammers always make excuses as to why they can’t even meet in person and usually refuse even a video meeting because online profiles are entirely fabricated.
Never give money to someone you haven’t met in person. Be especially wary if they ask you to send funds through wire transfer, money orders, or prepaid cards, as these forms of payment are untraceable and cannot be returned. Cut off contact immediately with anyone who requests money online, and protect your personal information, like your credit card number, bank account number, Social Security number, or other government ID numbers.
BBB Scam Tracker also receives reports of fake dating websites where everything is a sham designed to steal money and information. Victims sign up for a dating service that seems legitimate. The site asks you to fill out a profile with your personal information. This includes the credit card number used to pay for your membership.
However, when browsing other users’ profiles, you notice red flags. Other members who contact you have incomplete profiles that lack photos and other essential information. You may also see that people frequently vanish from the site — even after you’ve chatted with them.
If you want to use a dating service, check out business reviews and ratings on BBB.org first. In addition, it’s wise to do an internet search of the dating website’s name and the words “reviews” and “scams.” Look carefully for adverse reports or past users who suspect the website is fake.
Many scammers steal photos from the internet to use in their dating profiles. You can do a reverse image lookup using a website like Google Images to see if the pictures on a profile are stolen from somewhere else. You can also search online for a profile name, email, or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn’t.
Ask specific questions about details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.
Take it slow. A red flag is someone who wants to get serious quickly and not meet first. Take your time getting to know your match and ensuring it is who they say they are.
While Valentine’s Day and the holidays are the busiest times, romance scams remain a major ongoing problem throughout the year.
• Steve J. Bernas is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org