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BBB tip: Don't let your quest for love blind you to the realities of romance scams

Submitted Guest Editorial

Wed, Feb 9th 2022 02:25 pm

Submitted by the Better Business Bureau

Online dating sites are popular, as many use technology to find a match. But behind some dating profiles lurk scammers who are ready to dupe users into believing they have found love.

Don’t let your quest for love blind you to the realities of romance scams.

Online dating and social media make it easy to meet new people and find dates. Unfortunately, it made scammers’ work simpler, too.

Con artists create compelling backstories, and full-fledged identities to trick victims into falling for someone who doesn’t exist. This form of deception is known as “catfishing.” Sometimes a catfisher is a lonely person hiding behind a fake persona, but often it is the first step in a phishing scheme to steal personal information or to trick victims out of money. In some cases, victims have been tricked into moving illegal money from other scams (“money mule”), which is potentially a crime.

Read more in “Online Romance Scams: A BBB Study on How Scammers Use Impersonation, Blackmail, and Trickery to Steal From Unsuspecting Daters.

How the scam works:

Most romance scams start with fake profiles on online dating sites created by stealing photos and text from real accounts or elsewhere. Scammers often claim to be in the military or working overseas to explain why they can’t meet in person. Over a short period of time, the scammer builds a fake relationship with the victim, exchanging photos and romantic messages, even talking on the phone or through a webcam.

Just when the relationship seems to be getting serious, the new sweetheart has a health issue or family emergency or wants to plan a visit. No matter the story, the request is the same: They need money. But after the victim sends money, there’s another request, and then another. Or the scammer stops communicating altogether.

Tips to spot this scam:

√ Too hot to be true. Scammers offer up good-looking photos and tales of financial success. If someone seems “too perfect,” alarm bells should ring.

√ In a hurry to get off the site. Catfishers will try very quickly to get you to move to communicate through email, messenger or phone.

√ Moving fast. A catfisher will begin speaking of a future together and say "I love you" quickly. They often say they’ve never felt this way before.

√ Talk about trust. Catfishers will start manipulating victims with talk about trust and how important it is. This will often be a first step to asking for money.

√ Don’t want to meet. Be wary of someone who always has an excuse to postpone meetings because they say they are traveling or live overseas or are in the military.

√ Suspect language. If the person claims to be local, but has poor spelling or grammar, uses overly flowery language, or uses phrases that don’t make sense, that’s a red flag.

√ Hard luck stories. Before moving on to asking for money, the scammer may hint at financial troubles such as the heat being cut off, or a stolen car, or a sick relative, or they may share a sad story from their past (death of parents or spouse, etc.)

Tips to protect yourself from this scam:

√ Never send money or personal information that can be used for identity theft to someone you’ve never met in person. Never give someone your credit card information to book a ticket to visit you. Cut off contact if someone starts asking you for information like credit card, bank or government ID numbers.

√ Ask specific questions about details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.

√ Do your research. Many scammers steal photos from the web to use in their profiles. You can do a reverse image lookup using a website like tineye.com or images.google.com to see if the photos on a profile are stolen from somewhere else. You can also search online for a profile name, email or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn’t.

To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.

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