Romance scammers on the web



Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate the heart -- and protect the wallet. Like many holidays, it’s also a feast day for many scammers.

The Better Business Bureau just released a Valentine’s Day themed public safety announcement specifically aimed at those who date online. Partnering with Western Union, it warned that among those special someones found online are fraudsters.

This is not the first time that Better Business Bureau has taken the time to advise US consumers to beware. "Ho Ho Hold on before sending money to people you haven’t met," the bureau advised this past holiday season.

The worst scams, are, of course, online, where lonely hearts tend to spend a lot of time. There are quite a few Americans searching for love online, according to Pew Research Center. About 9 percent of all American adults have personally used an online dating site in 2013 -- a number that’s almost quadrupled since 2008, when just 3 percent of Americans turned to the internet in their search for love. That search, however, doesn’t always lead to a happily ever after.

As more and more people turn to internet for romance, so do more scammers. In 2011, the FBI received 5,600 complaints from romance scam victims, amounting to $50.4 million in losses, reports CNN. In 2012, romance scam made up 10 percent of all internet money scams and raked in as much as $56 million, according to AARP. Women 50 and older lost $34 million.

"Consumers should be wary of anyone who almost immediately declares love," the bureau warned in its blog post on catfishing romance scams. Other red flags, according to the bureau, are when that person makes excuses for not agreeing to webcam calls or meetings in person, when they claim to be traveling or living abroad and, of course, when they ask for your money or credit card information.

Romance scams are not the only ones that the Better Business Bureau has warned against recently. Here are other scams that you and your loves ones should watch out for:

Missed call wasn’t for you

The past few weeks have given a rise to a new scam -- the one-ring phone scam. Your phone will ring once and then the caller will hang up. If you return the the call, you will be charged $19.95 just for making the call and up to $9 per minute after connecting.

We know you don’t want to miss even just one call; after all, 44 percent of you have slept with your phone next to your bed so as not to miss any important calls in the night. Yet it might be for the best if you hold off on returning all calls, especially those from unknown numbers that do not leave a voicemail.

Don’t believe it? According to the New Hampshire BBB, this is just the beginning of the one-ring phone scams. "The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have reviewed thousands of complaints about the practice, and expect the problem to grow," it said in a recent press release.

Check your statements

A charge of $9.84 has been appearing on credit card statements across the US. The charge, which is supposedly for customer or website support and often passes for a forgotten purchase, is actually a scam, according to a recent BBB alert.

Sure, $9.84 doesn’t seem like much. Yet small fraudulent charges can add up over time. The $9.84 is the newest reincarnation of the old-school scam that has been proven to work, says Lois Greisman, associate director of Marketing Practices at the Federal Trade Commission.

There are a few reason why this scam works. First, the amount used is small enough to make you think that it’s a legitimate purchase you made but forgot about. Many people don’t track many of their smaller purchases. Second, many people don’t review their statements closely or balance their checkbooks. Third, when it comes to joint accounts, it’s easy to assume that the purchase was made your significant other.

"Usually if it’s a joint credit card, the husband thinks the wife charged it and the wife thinks the husband charged it," Steve Barnas, president and CEO of the norther Illinois Better Business Bureau, told NPR.

Maybe this Valentine’s Day, you should dedicate some time to a special couple activity: balancing your checkbook.

You didn’t win the lottery

Especially, if you have to pay in order to get your winnings. This scam is mostly perpetrated against older consumers, like the 95-year-old California man who paid $124,000 attempting to collect his winnings this January. Here are some words of wisdom from Better Business Bureau:

Never pay any money to collect supposed sweepstakes winnings. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, you’re not winning. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay ‘insurance,’ ‘taxes’ or ‘shipping and handling charges’ to collect your prize.

If you do win the lottery, you will, however, be subject to taxes after collecting your winnings.


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