Talk about an achy breaky heart; the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is reminding dating website users to take caution this Valentine’s Day and every day. Jim Hegarty of the BBB says these scams hurt worse than most since they involve scammers getting intimately close with victims and then scamming them out of thousands of dollars. Some of those victims, Hegarty told KFOR, are right here in Lincoln, “We’ve seen people who live right here in our communities drawn in by these scammers. They are very, very good at what they do. They’re very sophisticated.”
A recent study released by the Better Business Bureau reveals an estimated 1 million Americans have been victimized in romance fraud scams with losses nearing 1 billion dollars over the last three years. Scammers often portray themselves as U.S. military members or Americans living abroad. The majority of romance fraud has its home in West Africa but also in Russia and Ukraine.
The scheme can take a number of months to play out as the person running the false dating website profile gains the victim’s trust. The scammer will eventually ask for small amounts of money to “feel out” the victim, and then the victims often turn into unknowing accomplices of money laundering. Hegarty said these scammers target lonely people who may have recently lost a significant other or are just looking for someone to go see a movie with. “We believe that this is an under-reported crime with many victims too embarrassed to report what has happened to them,” Hegarty said. “Victims can be wiped out financially. Emotionally, it is also devastating. Some victims have considered suicide.”
There are ways to protect yourself while using online dating sites. Hegarty said there are a few ways you can make sure you’re not a target:
- Protect your identity and your wallet. 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. Ask specific questions about details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.
- Verify who you’re chatting with. 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.
- Report it! If you feel like you’ve been victimized, report it to BBB’s ScamTracker, the Federal Trade Commission, or the FBI.