Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever for con artists to target those looking for love on Valentine’s Day.
The Better Business Bureau is offering tips so your quest for romance doesn’t blind you to the realities of scams.
Romance scams were behind more than $1 billion in losses in Canada and the U.S. between 2015 and 2018, the bureau said.
The most common form of deception is catfishing, which is when scammers create compelling back stories, along with full-fledged identities, and trick someone into falling for that fake person. Along the way, the catfisher steals personal details like credit card information or dupes the victim out of money.
In some cases, the scammer goes so far as to convince their “significant other” to unknowingly transfer money connected to prior scams from account to account.
The BBB said most scams start with fake profiles on online dating sites that use stolen photos and biographies from real accounts or elsewhere. The scammer often claims they cannot meet in person because they are in the military or work overseas.
After messaging back and forth for some time – even talking on the phone or through a webcam – the scammer will say they need money to help fix a health issue or a family emergency, or say they want to plan a visit.
Sometimes, the requests for more and more money continue for a period of time. Other times, the scammer disappears once the money is transferred to their account.
Tips to spot the scam
Too hot to be true: Scammers use good-looking photos and tales of financial success. Be honest with yourself about who would be genuinely interested. If they seem “too perfect,” your alarm bells should ring. Ask specific questions about details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.
In a hurry to get off the site: Catfishers will try very quickly to get you to move to email, Facebook messenger, or phone.
Moving fast: A catfisher will begin speaking of a future together and tell you they love you quickly. They often say they’ve never felt this way before.
Talk about trust: Catfishers will start manipulating you with talk about trust and how important it is. This will often be a first step to asking you for money.
Don’t want to meet: Be wary of someone who always has an excuse to postpone meeting, saying they are traveling or live overseas or are in the military.
Suspect language: If the person claims to be from your hometown but has poor spelling or grammar, uses overly flowery language, or uses phrases that don’t make sense, that’s a red flag.
Banking numbers: 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.
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. You can also search online for a profile name, email, or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn’t.