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Better Business Bureau ®
Start With Trust®
Don’t let your Valentine’s Day romance end with a broken heart
BBB warns online users to beware of scams that could break your heart and wallet
February 14, 2014

Millions of Americans use online dating sites, social media and chat rooms to meet people. And many forge successful relationships. But scammers also use these sites to meet potential victims.

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin warns that scammers sometimes use online dating and social networking sites to try to convince people to send money in the name of love.  In an online scam like this, the con artist creates a fake profile, gains the trust of an online love interest and then asks that person to wire money—usually to a location outside the United States.

A sweetheart scam, also referred to as “catfishing,” is when someone creates a false identity, usually through social media sites and online dating sites, in the hopes of luring someone into a deceptive romantic relationship.

Here are a few signs of a “catfishing” scam:

  • They want to leave the dating site immediately and use personal e-mail or IM accounts.
  • They express instant feelings of love.
  • They claim to be from the United States, but currently overseas.
  • They ask for money to pay for travel, medication, hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback or expenses while a big business deal comes through.
  • Plans to visit, but is prevented by a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour. Some may also say they’re out of the country for business or military service.
  • They make multiple requests for more money.

“Catfish” are looking for personal information and/or financial support. They put a lot of time and effort into building a fake persona and relationship with their victim(s). They’ve even been known to pose as members of the military to tug on heart strings just a little tighter.

Criminals typically ‘date’ victims over several months with poetry, flowers and other forms of flattery. They then lure victims off the dating site to communicate by email or instant message. Trust won, the perpetrators then present a crisis that requires money to resolve.

For those in search of love online, BBB offers the following tips:

  • Never wire money. It is difficult to get money back from someone who may be misrepresenting them self once it has been sent through a wire service.  
  • Use caution with those who wish to leave the dating site immediately. Many times scammers will attempt to lure you off the dating site to continue communication using personal email accounts.
  • Take the time to research individuals. If any red flags are raised in your communication with someone, search his or her name through search engines and on social media sites. Copy and paste portions of your emails into search engines to see if they have been associated with scams.