As the month when Valentine’s Day falls on the calendar, February has a reputation for being “prime time” for romance. While that may or may not be true, it’s definitely a time when scammers seek to prey on those searching for romantic interests online. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) advises people to proceed with caution before they let their hearts – and their finances – get tangled up in a romance scheme.
“Romance scams work on two levels; emotional and financial,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “As such, it’s doubly devastating when it becomes clear someone who believed they had a genuine connection has instead been not just mislead, but defrauded.”
Romance scams can happen to anyone. You meet someone who seems like a match online, you get to know them, and everything seems to be going well; however, you aren’t able to meet in person for some reason (due to issues they claim, such as distance, military deployment, work travel, etc.). Then suddenly your online love interest claims they’re in desperate straits and asks you to wire money, or says they can come to meet you but need you to wire funds for the airline ticket. Be aware that these are classics signs of a romance scam, and if you dip into your own pockets once, he or she will likely continue to find more reasons to forestall a meeting, all the while asking for more money from you, or they may simply vanish into thin air.
BBB offers tips on how to avoid romance scams:
Know your enemy. Before you even set up an online dating profile, simply be aware that not everyone using online dating sites is looking for love. Fraudsters create bogus online profiles using photos of others. While romance schemes tend to target older individuals, con artists aren’t afraid to flirt with the younger crowd, who gravitate toward dating apps, such as Tinder. Scammers often give themselves away through poor grammar or misspellings in online correspondence.
Keep your guard up. Never send money to people you have yet to meet in person. You could find yourself opening a door that’s very difficult to close. If you’re using an online dating service, be especially wary of anyone who asks you to leave the dating website to continue your conversation through email or instant messaging, as this allows fraudsters to carry out their scheme without the dating site having a record of your encounter.
Be cautious if someone claims to be local but is “currently out of the country.” These individuals could be fraudsters operating from overseas, making it more difficult for authorities to track them down. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Also, be aware that scammers sometimes claim a military connection in an attempt to gain people’s trust.
Stay grounded. Fraudsters often claim to be head over heels in love from the word “go.” Other times they lead their victims on until they feel that the time is right to ask for money. Either way, no matter how much an online relationship feels like the real thing, you should be suspicious if someone you’ve never met starts requesting information like credit card or bank information, or asks you to wire funds.
If you think you’ve gotten into a bad situation, tell someone. Sometimes people are afraid to let other people know they’ve been deceived – especially if they’ve wired money to a supposed love interest. When your instincts are telling you something isn’t right, it’s important that you heed those feelings. Talking things over with friends and family and reporting the scheme to BBB and the FTC can save you money and heartache.
Though romance schemes spike during the month of February, it’s important to know that this type of scam happens throughout the year. Often, simply by being cautious and knowing the signs of this nasty fraud, people using online dating sites can steer clear of it.
The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.