With Valentine’s Day just days away, the Better Business Bureau advises people looking to start new relationships to watch out for romance scams. This is a scheme wherein unscrupulous individuals look to defraud people by pretending to be a love interest and playing on emotions for their own financial gain. This type of scam usually occurs via email or social media but can also happen through established online dating services. Romance scams are a double whammy, they hit victims financially and emotionally, and the consequences are often devastating.
Romance schemes can target anyone, but often target older individuals, those who are new to the internet or not as tech-savvy. The relationship generally develops online or over the phone, when people either respond to fake online profiles or are contacted by a scammer in response to an ad they posted. Conversations begin online and things can progress quickly, which is why it’s important to take things slow. Scammers prey on emotion and they’re good at telling people what they want – or hope – to hear.
A huge red flag for people seeking relationships online is any request for funds. Sometimes scammers who have struck up virtual relationships will ask for money to buy an airplane ticket, so the couple can “finally” meet. However, these requests are nothing more than a gateway to further requests, as the scammer comes up with reasons they can’t make the trip, such as an illness, a sick relative or supposedly losing their job. A good rule is to never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. Another good rule is to remember that someone who cares about you will not ask you to place yourself in financial jeopardy for them or put you in a difficult position.
People going online or using online dating services to meet romantic interests should be leery of:
• Pressure to leave the dating site. They want you to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email, text or IM accounts.
• Hasty expressions of love. They express instant feelings of love, although they have very little knowledge of you.
• Claims of citizenship. They claim to be from the United States, but currently are overseas, deployed or on assignment elsewhere.
• Sudden major expenses. They ask for money to pay for travel, medication, hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback or expenses while a big business deal comes through.
• Change of plans. They plan on visiting, but unexpectedly are prevented by a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour. Some may also say they have been called out of the country for business or military service.
• Requests for money. They make multiple requests for more money. They may even test you and ask for a little at first and then continue to ask for larger amounts.
For those in search of love online, BBB offers the following tips:
• Never wire money. It is difficult to impossible to get money back from people who may be misrepresenting themselves once it has been sent through a wire service.
• Put safety first. Remember that all personal information provided will be made available for all those on the site to see. Avoid putting too much personal information on your profile, such as home address, work information or telephone number.
• Take the time to research individuals. If you see any red flags in your communication with someone, search his or her name through search engines and on social media sites. Copy and paste portions of your emails into search engines to see if they have been associated with past scams.
Many romance scams never get reported because of the victim’s embarrassment but it is important to remember that these scammers have been perfecting this con for many years and over time, they have gotten very good at their trade.
For more trustworthy tips from the BBB, visit bbb.org.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 83 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina.