As Valentine’s Day draws near, lonely hearts and singles just looking for fun are sure to be spending lots of time with online dating web sites.
And we’re not talking about someone who is actually 15 years older and 30 pounds heavier than their profile photo would suggest.
Indeed, those who misrepresent their physical appearance aren’t the worst of what’s out there.
There are plenty of would-be crooks who use legitimate dating sites to steal your money.
Commonly known as romance scams, dating scams, or grooming scams, the perpetrator uses communication with you via an online dating site as a door into your heart. He or she plays on your emotions. Lures you by getting you to like who they pretend to be. Establishes a “connection.”
Then they go in for the money shakedown.
These scammers create fake profiles, and once you respond to their messages, things move very quickly. You’re very special to them, they say. You have so much in common. Like you were meant for each other. They’re so grateful to have finally met someone like you.
Then the conversation turns to a financial one. They hint to you that they need money, or they ask outright.
Their elderly mother is ill, or they need medical attention themselves.
They’re going to be evicted from their apartment, or they’ve lost their job, or their ex-spouse isn’t paying the child support that’s due.
They need money for a plane ticket so they can meet you in person, or they need a temporary loan so they can book a romantic dream vacation to take you away.
They might even suggest you help them by sharing your bank account or credit card information.
If you decide to send money — usually requested through a wire transfer or even though Green Dot MoneyPak cards (though that won’t be possible for much longer) — you’ll probably never hear from the recipient again.
Unless they decide to ask you for money a second time.
Such criminals can be hard, if not impossible, to track. While some scammers may be local, quite often, they’re not even within our borders. And after victims realize they’ve been taken advantage of, they’re too embarrassed to report the incident.
When it comes to affairs of the heart, it’s so important that you make sure your brain stays in charge.
Match.com, a popular online dating community, offers many tips to educate its customers.
It says you should ignore any request to send money, and it asks that you report any suspicious communications to the company immediately.
“Wiring money is like sending cash: the sender has no protections against loss and it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money,” the Match.com web site says.
It warns customers to never give financial information, including your Social Security number, credit card number or bank information, to people you don’t know or you haven’t met in person. It also recommends you keep close your personal information, such as your full name, address or telephone number, until you’re sure you’re talking to a real person.
The Match.com site also says customers should be on the lookout for the following red flags. Be suspicious if a person:
• Quickly asks to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service
• Claims to be from U.S. but currently travelling, living or working abroad
• Asks you for money
• Vanishes mysteriously from the site, then reappears under a different name
• Talks about “destiny” or “fate”
• Claims to be recently widowed
• Asks for your address under the guise of sending flowers or gifts
• Makes an inordinate amount of grammar and/or spelling errors
• Sends you emails containing strange links to third-party websites
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers similar tips.
“Don’t send money to tide someone over after a mugging or robbery, and don’t do anyone a favor by making an online purchase or forwarding a package to another country,” the FTC web site says. “One request leads to another, and delays and disappointments will follow. In the end, the money will be gone along with the person you thought you knew.”
While we’re at it, the same rules should go for contact with potential partners on any social media site, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest of them.
Sure, spending Valentine’s Day alone may not be fun. But spending it alone and with an empty wallet and a stolen identity is even worse.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.