Looking for love online can leave you with a depleted bank account as well as a broken heart.
An estimated 82,000 U.S. consumers who’ve used dating sites in the past three years have been scammed by individuals who shower them with compliments, romantic text messages and promised dates, only to bilk them for money, the Better Business Bureau said this week.
The schemes can take months to play out as the scammer gains the victim’s trust, eventually asking for small amounts of money.
Scammers have bilked victims of nearly $1 billion since 2015, according to the group’s study.
The bureau undertook the study when it noticed an increase in complaints about online dating scams, said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. Bernas estimated the bureau hears about only 10 percent of the online dating scam cases. “Most consumers don’t come forward to complain because they are embarrassed or devastated,” he said.
There’s no “typical” victim of romance fraud, according to the report. “The common denominator is that they are seeking a loving relationship and they believe they have found it,” the report said.
The FBI’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission estimate that so-called romance fraud causes the greatest dollar loss of any fraud or scam that affects individuals, with the exception of investment fraud. Both agencies estimate that last year alone, 32,279 people were victims of online romance scams, losing $351.4 million.
To avoid becoming a victim, Bernas said online daters should beware of matches who quickly ask to take the conversation offline to text or Skype. He also recommends that online daters never send money or any personal information to someone they haven’t met in person.
Daters should always ask questions about specific details in profiles. For example, if someone is claiming to be a member of the military, ask for their military address and email domain. Always, the report said, be wary of discussions of marriage early in the relationship.
Romance fraud happens on every online dating site, Bernas said. “There’s no site that is 100 percent safe. Scammers are everywhere, they go where people are.”
)2018 Chicago Tribune
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