With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) 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,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “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 of thumb is to never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. Another good rule of thumb 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:
People who ask to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service. Oftentimes, this allows fraudsters to perpetrate fraud without the dating site having a record of the encounter.
Anyone who declares their love for you without meeting you or knowing very little about you.
Individuals who prefer to communicate solely via email or over the phone. This is often the sign of someone who has a need or wishes to keep their true identity hidden.
Claims that a person cannot meet because they are traveling, stationed or working abroad. Dishonest people use distance as a tool and a means of keeping people at arm’s length. Scammers will also sometimes falsely claim a military affiliation in an effort to gain people’s trust.
Requests for money or credit card information. Any and all requests for loans or cash advances should be refused and prompt an immediate assessment of the person you’re communicating with. Red flags don’t come any bigger than this.
Someone who asks for sensitive personal information. Remember, a scammer’s goal might also be to steal your identity. Be protective of your personal information and watch out for suspicious emails that could have links which contain malware designed to compromise your computer.
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.