As more people go cyber to find love, Better Business Bureau, the Washington State Attorney General's Office, AARP and the White Collar Crimes Unit of the Portland Police Bureau warn of an uptick in reports of romance scams. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, romance scam victims lost more than $55 million in 2012. To combat this growing epidemic, consumer protection groups are spending Valentine’s Day warning singles about the dangers of “catfishing.”
Online dating is big business in the United States—more than 41 million Americans have tried it—generating approximately $1.25 billion each year. In an industry that is largely unregulated, scammers take advantage of emotions to steal money and personal information.
“These crooks are professionals at fostering what appear to be genuine relationships,” says Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “They use carefully-crafted fake profiles to fool victims into wiring funds overseas.”
“Romance scams are an example of why it’s so important to stay safe online,” says Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “Scammers will do anything to build your trust, then prey on your emotions so you’ll give up money and personal information.”
“It’s not just hearts that are stolen come Valentine’s Day,” says AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center Director Jean Mathisen. “Your money, identity and sensitive computer files are at risk thanks to the many efforts by cons to infect your computer with malware this love-filled season; be wary of emails from unknown senders and E-cards from unnamed 'friends' or 'secret' admirers.”
“We only see a couple cases a month here in Portland, but these types of crimes often are under-reported because victims are embarrassed to report them,” adds Sargent Vic Body of the Portland Police Bureau.
The agencies advise online daters to be wary of potential mates who:
To protect hearts and wallets:
Remember, never wire money or send explicit photos out of the country as they will be impossible to recover. When in doubt, fall in love with BBB at bbb.org.
Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is one of 113 in North America and the largest BBB by geographical service area. BBB is a neutral not-for-profit public reporting agency committed to trust in the marketplace. For more information on ethical business standards and BBB Accreditation, or to access free BBB Business Reviews, Charity Reviews, scam alerts or find local event information, contact BBB or visit bbb.org.