BBB: Searching for love online can make you a target for scammers

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - A new study released by the Better Business Bureau says dozens of people in Central Ohio have opened not only their hearts but also their security while looking for love.

"We believe that this is an under-reported crime with many victims too embarrassed to report what has happened to them,” said Kip Morse, President and CEO of BBB of Central Ohio. “Victims can be wiped out financially and emotionally. If you are going to search for a date online, it’s vital that you know the person on the other end of the conversation is who they say they are.”

The organization showed about 1 million Americans have been victimized in romance fraud scams and said all of those people looking for love lost out on nearly $1 billion over the last three years. The information hails from the study “Online Romance Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study on How Scammers Use Impersonation, Blackmail and Trickery to Steal from Unsuspecting Daters”.

Morse offered tips for people throughout Central Ohio to find love through modern online dating methods while not losing anything out of bank accounts or personal security.

• Scammers prefer prepaid cards and money transfers. Never send money or any personal information to someone you’ve never met in person. Visiting with someone via a video call doesn’t mean they’re not a scammer. Also, be cautious to not reveal any personal information or do anything you might regret later when using video applications. Some scammers use software to record video calls and then use it to extort money from victims. Don’t succumb to pleas of a financial crisis.

• Think before going from public to private. Be hesitant if the conversation moves from a monitored site like social media or a dating site to a more private form of communication like email or instant messaging. This strategy might be a way for the scammer to draw you in without other people interfering.

• Do your research. Pour over the profile image and description. If it sounds too good to be true, verify it. You can perform a reverse image search to see if the profile photo has been used on other websites. You can also copy a portion of their biography and search to see if it’s been used on other sites. Scammers often use the same profile details and photos on multiple sites.

• Ask for details and get specific. Request other forms of identification, like a photo of them holding a piece of paper with their username on it. Ask specific questions about details in their profile. If they claim to be a military member, ask for their official military address as those all end in @mail.mil. Scammers likely will make excuses for why they can’t provide you more information.

• Pay attention to communication. Be wary of bad grammar and misspelled words. No one is perfect, but if mistakes often are repeated, it may suggest they aren’t from where they claim. Be on guard for use of pet names or discussions of marriage early in correspondence.

• Report it. If you feel like you’ve been victimized, report it to BBB’s ScamTracker, the Federal Trade Commission, and FBI.

The researchers found there to be no “typical” victim of romance fraud. Victims covered a variety of demographics. To learn more, click here.