If you’re looking for love this Valentine’s Day, be careful you don’t fall for a scam instead of a partner.
It can be hard to be single on Valentine’s Day – all the couples are out having nice dinners and getting flowers, but for some folks, it’s a lonely experience.
This is exactly what scammers plan to take advantage of as the big day comes around, especially for those singles looking for love online.
But there are always telltale signs that the person you think may be just right for you is actually trying to empty your bank account of cash, not fill your heart with joy.
Here’s what to look for.
Scam identities feel real
One of the things that make romance scams so dangerous is the plausible backstories scammers tell while they’re reeling a victim in.
These false histories will explain why meeting in person may be hard, often as the apparent wannabe date is currently working overseas. Convenient, right? They’ll seem like the real deal, but anyone engaging in online dating should be careful of anyone who, for whatever reason, cannot manage a catch-up in the real world.
Do some research online and see if you can find the person you’re talking to on social media – if you can’t find them on Facebook or LinkedIn, or even on a simple Google search, be wary.
Watch for a shift to a different platform
Like the proverbial stranger down a dark alley, romance scammers will often try to shift online conversations away from official dating apps and other sites to places like Telegram, or even over email.
What this does is take away any possible oversight from the app in question, leaving prospective victims now virtually alone with their scammer, where they will often start to escalate the stakes of the relationship.
Love at first chat?
Scammers will attempt to create strong emotional attachments, and they do it fast. The faster a scammer can convince a victim that the love they profess is real, the faster they can move on to the next stage – actually asking for cash.
If your prospective partner says they love you eternally after just a few days, be very careful about where the conversation goes next.
The big ask – for money
It starts small – the scammer says they’re short of a bit of cash for a minor emergency, but once that first transfer of money happens, you can bet the minor emergency becomes major. Healthcare troubles, sudden business debts, or a failed investment – it doesn’t matter what the reason is, but the small favours will escalate to large and very expensive ones.
Never transfer money to someone you have not met or had a video call with. Even then, exercise caution – normal people, the kind you actually want to fall for, will not ask for tens of thousands of dollars from someone they’ve never met.
Don’t send nudes
Another tactic of romance scammers is to solicit private, often naked or otherwise sexual, photos from their victims, after which they extort them. One minute, you’re hoping your abs looked good in that pic you sent, then the next, you’re being threatened with those photos being made public if you don’t pony up some cash.
This is sextortion, and it is not sexy at all.
First of all, always be careful who you share such images with, and if you do end up a victim of sextortion, don’t pay up – instead, report it to the police. You’re the target of a crime, and law enforcement can best handle the situation.
Not only will paying up leave you short of cash, but it will also embolden the scammer. Who knows who they might target next – or what they may ask of you.
According to privacy expert Trevor Cooke at EarthWeb: “Always verify the person’s identity and use a video call to see who you’re communicating with. If you’re wise at every turn, Valentine’s Day can become a joy rather than an opportunity for criminals.”