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Friday, October 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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BBB Tip of the Week: Keep yourself protected from scams this Valentine’s Day

By Tyler Russell BBB Northwest and Pacific

With Valentine’s Day coming up, BBB Northwest and Pacific wants you to be aware of the realities of romance scams and armed with tips to protect yourself.

Dating in the internet world has made it easier for those searching to find connections both near and far. This has also made it easier for scammers to get your information, trust and money.

Con artists create compelling back stories and full-fledged identities, then trick you into falling for someone who doesn’t exist. This form of deception is known as “catfishing.” Sometimes a catfisher is simply a lonely person hiding behind a fake persona. But often it is the first step in a phishing scheme to steal personal information, or a romance scam to trick you out of money. In some cases, victims have been tricked into moving illegal money from other scams as a “money mule,” which is potentially a crime.

How does this scam work? Many romance scams start with fake profiles on online dating sites created by stealing photos and text from real accounts or elsewhere. Scammers often claim to be in the military or working overseas to explain why they can’t meet you in person. Over a short period of time, the scammer builds a fake relationship with you, exchanging photos and romantic messages, and even talking on the phone or through a webcam.

Just when the relationship seems to be getting serious, your new sweetheart has a health issue, family emergency or wants to plan a visit. No matter the story, the request is the same: They need money. But after you send money, there’s another request, and then another. Or the scammer stops communicating altogether.

There are several telltale signs that someone is attempting to catfish you. Many of the scammers use good-looking photos and tales of success. If they seem too perfect, your inner alarm bells should ring. Many of these scammers will also try to get you to move away from the site and begin communicating through email, Messenger and phone. Also, they will bring up having a future together and that they love you very quickly in the relationship and talk about trust and how important it is. This is often the first step to asking you for money.

Excuses also pile up about not wanting to meet because they are traveling, live overseas or are in the military. The final stroke of this scam is to reveal they have come upon hard times, such as their heat being cut off or,in some cases, share a well-constructed story from the past.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Never send money or personal information that can be used for identity theft to someone you’ve never met in person. Never give someone your credit card information to book a ticket to visit you. Cut off contact if someone starts asking you for information like credit card, bank or government ID numbers.

Ask specific questions about details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.

Do your research. Many scammers steal photos from the web to use in their profiles. You can do a reverse image lookup using a website like tineye.com to see if the photos on a profile are stolen from somewhere else. You can also search online for a profile name, email or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn’t.

To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker at www.bbb.org/scamtracker

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