Cupid has competition this Valentine’s Day—scammers are targeting your heart and wallet with tricks that can lead to identity theft and more. Officials with the Better Business Bureau are warning folks to beware of ‘romance scams.’ In these scenarios, con artists pretend to be interested in you, your friend, or a family member—as a way to get your money. Many victims can lose substantial sums, often their entire life savings.
What makes these scams worse is that in many cases, a victim’s belief in what they think is true love is so convincing that many refuse to recognize or accept they’ve been scammed. Even after being cheated out of some money, they’ll continue to send cash, ignoring the advice of family and friends.
The popularity of online dating and social media have made it easier than ever to meet new people and find dates—and also makes it easier for romantic imposters to gain control over your bank accounts.
Know the warning signs
To protect you or your loved one’s personal and financial information, the best bet is to arm yourself with enough knowledge to identify scammers and their tricks. Avoid a new romantic interest who:
- Moves fast—Almost immediately declares love for you without ever meeting you or knowing anything about you.
- Changes the channel—No matter what site you’ve met on, the scammer will try very quickly to get you to move your conversations to email, messenger, or phone. This is because the scammer is usually trying to carry out many dating scams at once and their current fake profile will likely be removed after enough complaints.
- Seems perfect—Your new interest will try to fool you with fake dating profiles containing good-looking photos and stories of financial success.
- Fakes their whereabouts—Suitors will claim to be from the U.S., but use the excuse that they’re currently traveling, living, or working abroad so they can’t be pinned down. Or say they are in the military stationed overseas.
- Makes a “big ask” —Scammers will ask you to sign documents, ask you to open joint bank accounts with them, or ask you for access to your credit card or bank accounts. They usually have a hard- luck story (some financial emergency, a sick relative, a stolen wallet) and asks for your help.
Know how to protect yourself
- When meeting new singles online, usually one of the first things you do is exchange photos. Use a search engine to check if your correspondent goes by another name or lives in a different city. If so, it’s an indication that may be lying to you about whom they really are.
- If you’ve been corresponding with someone by e-mail, cut and paste the text from one of his or her e-mails into Google and see if the words pop up on any romance scam sites. Consumer Reports advises to “check the address on a site such as romancescams.org, which compiles lists of e-mail addresses of known scammers. The website Scamalytics maintains a blacklist of scammers who use false pictures.
- Set some boundaries. Conceal your last name, e-mail address, and where you work until you’ve actually met. Don’t give out your social media accounts or anything that can trace them back to you. And be wary of admirers who ask about this information before you’ve exchanged pleasantries.
- Remove tracking. There’s a new crop of GPS-based dating apps that automatically scan for potential mates through proximity and convenience. If you’re using a mobile app, turn off your location services so cons can’t decipher where you’re located.
- Don’t give a new acquaintance access to your money—including ATM cards, bank accounts, credit cards, or investment accounts.
Resources: FBI.gov, Consumer Reports, AARP, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, IDG Communications, Inc., Scam-Detector.com.