DON’T FALL FOR IT: SWEETHEART SCAMS

02/17/2017 02:40 pm ET

Meeting your potential match online has become increasingly common with online dating sites and apps gaining popularity. While finding romance online once held a stigma, a majority of Americans now agree that online dating is a good way to meet people. Every year, however, thousands of Americans are conned by scammers with fake dating profiles posing as potential love interests.

“Sweetheart scams” happen more often than you’d think, with as many as one out of 10 profiles on some dating sites belonging to a scammer. These fake online daters are referred to as “catfish,” and in many cases, they’re looking to make money. Financial losses from these scams totaled over $203 million in losses in 2015. Whether you’re using an app or a dating site, there are steps that you should take to differentiate a potential match from a fraud.

Spotting the Warning Signs

Online dating has made subterfuge easy, making sweetheart scams difficult to detect. In many situations, scammers create their personas based on information they find in a potential victim’s profile. These fake profiles commonly represent themselves as models, wealthy foreign businessmen, or deployed military service members. Usually these profiles claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad. The scammers behind these profiles are often overseas themselves.

Interactions start out harmless, with the scammer focusing on creating and growing a connection. After a few weeks, the scammer may start expressing deep feelings, while dodging requests to use Skype or FaceTime. Once a strong connection is established, the scammer will make a request for money.

There can be a variety of reasons for the request, spanning from traveling to meet you, medical emergencies, visas or other travel documents, or help recovering from a recent financial setback. In some cases, scammers might send a check to cash since they’re out of the country and ask you to send them the money. These are laundering schemes, which involve phony checks, sending money overseas, or even unknowingly forwarding packages with stolen merchandise. Before you know it, you could end up losing money or in some situations have your personal information compromised.

To Catch a Catfish

Don’t fall victim to a sweetheart scam. These are steps you can take to help avoid becoming entangled in fraudulent online dating:

  • Be sure you’re using a reputable dating sites. More established websites have security measures in place for catching fake profiles. Not all websites have these precautions in place, so do your research before setting up a profile.
  • It never hurts to Google your matches. Some items you can search include phone numbers, usernames, social media profiles, and even photos to see if other fake profiles appear.
  • Sharing personal information with someone you’ve never met is never a good idea. Refrain from including PII (personally identifiable information) on your public dating profile, which includes information like date of birth, phone number, email address, medical history or employment history. Be wary of sharing any information that could be used to gain access to your online accounts and put you at risk for identity theft.
  • Never send anyone money, especially overseas or by wire transfer. The chances of recovering your money are very slim.

These are just a few examples of what you can do to help improve your own personal security and safety when using dating sites. If you do fall victim to an online dating scam, the FBI and Internet Crime Complaint Center are the first places you should turn. For more information or to file a complaint, visit www.ic3.gov.

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