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Online dating and romance scams
Here’s how to spot them
By Bobby Hansen, - Better Business Bureau
Feb. 3, 2023 5:00 am
Romance scams are different from other scams. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the Better Business Bureau encourages those looking for love to be cautious.
Online dating sites are more popular than ever. But behind many profiles lurk scammers ready to dupe users. Victims are tricked into relationships where the goal is to get money and/or credit card information.
While most believe that they would never succumb to a romance scam, these platforms have made it easier to meet new people and easier to be scammed. Impersonators create compelling back stories and full-fledged identities to fool victims into falling for someone who doesn't exist, a “catfishing” deception.
Sometimes a catfisher is a lonely person hiding behind a fake persona. Often it is the first step in a phishing scheme to steal personal information or a romance scam to con a target out of money.
How the scam works:
Most start with fake dating profiles by stealing information from real accounts. They claim to be in the military or overseas to explain why they can’t meet.
The scammer rapidly builds the fake relationship, exchanging photos and romantic messages. Then there is a health issue, job loss, family emergency or a plan to visit.
No matter the story, the request is the same: They need money. After money is sent, there are requests for more or communication abruptly stops.
How to spot this scam:
- Too good to be true. Scammers offer attractive photos with tales of educational accomplishments and financial success. If they seem “too perfect,” alarm bells should ring.
- Rush to get off the site. Catfishers want to communicate offline, typically through texts. They convince the victim that their friends have questionable motives if they criticize the scammer.
- Moving fast. A catfisher plans a future together and claims to be in love quickly by learning about the victim’s life and building trust. They often say they’ve never felt this way before.
- Talk about trust. Catfishers manipulate with talk about trust and its importance. They may even send flowers or small gifts as a test. This is often the first step to asking for money.
- Won’t meet. Be wary of someone who always has an excuse to postpone a meeting because they say they are traveling, work long hours, live overseas or are in the military.
- Suspect language. If the communication is from an individual allegedly in the U.S. but has poor spelling or grammar, uses overly descriptive flowery language or phrases that don’t make sense, that’s a red flag.
- Hard luck stories. Before asking for money, the scammer may hint at financial troubles like utilities cut off, a stolen car, a sick relative or share a sad story relating to a loved one’s death.
Here are ways to protect yourself from becoming a target:
- Never send money or personal information that can be used for identity theft to someone without meeting in person. Cut off contact if asked for credit card, bank or Social Security number.
- Ask specific questions about detail in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.
- Do research. Many scammers steal photos to use in their profiles so do a reverse image lookup. Search online for a profile name, email or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn’t.
Bobby Hansen is regional director for the Better Business Bureau Cedar Rapids office. Comments: (319) 365-1190; firstname.lastname@example.org