February Means Romance, Flowers And Scams

BBB Tips on Avoiding Romance Scams

February has a reputation for being a romantic month. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when cyber heartbreakers ramp up efforts to defraud people looking to make connections online. Better Business Bureau® of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) advises people to take things slowly to avoid becoming entangled in a romance scheme.

“This is a devastating scam, one that works on two levels,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Emotionally, it can be traumatic enough. But factor in the financial losses that so often accompany it and the consequences can be truly tragic.”

Romance scams can happen to anyone, anytime. You meet someone who seems like a match online, you become acquainted, and everything appears to be on the level; however, you aren’t able to meet in person for some reason (due to issues they claim, such as distance, financial issues, military deployment, work travel, etc.). Then suddenly your online love interest claims they – or a member of their family – are in desperate straits and asks you for a loan, or says they can finally meet but need you to wire funds for the airline ticket. These are classic signs of online romance scams. If you dip into your pockets, he or she will continue to find more reasons to forestall a meeting, all the while asking for more money, or they may simply vanish into thin air.

BBB tips on how to avoid romance scams:

Know your enemy. Before you even set up an online dating profile, simply know that not everyone using online dating sites is looking for love. Fraudsters often 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 wire or loan money to people you haven’t met in person. By doing so, 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, texting or instant messaging, as this allows fraudsters to operate freely 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 will 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 requests a loan, 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 others know they’ve been deceived – especially if they suspect they’ve been defrauded. When your instincts are telling you something isn’t right, it’s important to heed those feelings. Talking things over with friends and family and reporting the scheme to local authorities, BBB and the FTC can save you money and additional heartache.

Keep in mind that while romance schemes spike during the month of February, this type of scam happens throughout the year. Often, simply by taking things slow and being cautious, people 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.