Warning: How to Avoid Romance Scams

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Romance is in the air, but so are romance scams and crooks are using them to cheat you out of your money.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, the FBI is warning people to watch out for criminals looking to use your heart to get to your pocketbook.

Romance Scam Warning Signs

Money expert Clark Howard’s Consumer Action Center (CAC) handles calls about romance scams all the time. CAC Director Lori Silverman says many of these scams involve thousands of dollars. Lori says this is how the scam usually works:

 A woman meets someone on Facebook and he wins her trust by saying that he served in the armed forces or something similar. At some point, he ends up in dire straits and needs some money wired to him.

After some time the victim grows suspicious, refuses to send more money and tells the authorities. That’s how the scheme finally unravels — but by that time it’s usually too late.

Another frequent romance scam is when a person is “catfished” by someone pretending to be someone else.

“I call these the loneliness scams,” Lori says, “because the person on the other side is seeking a relationship and wants to believe this is real.”

Here are a couple warning signs that Lori says can help you spot a romance scam:

Red Flags That Indicate It’s a Romance Scam

  1. You’ve never met them in real life: “You have to remember that whoever you have this romance with, if you’ve never met them in person, that’s a sign,” Lori says.
  2. They solicit you for money: “If they’re asking for money that’s a big clue,” she says. “Especially if they all of the sudden say they need money to get to the U.S. or something like that.”

Sue Gatliff, assistant director of the CAC, says these types of scams are unfortunately routine today.

“We get calls from grown children about their parents saying, ‘How can we get them to stop this?’ or ‘How do we get them to believe it’s not real?'”

Final Thought

If you’re involved in an online relationship and think it may be a scam, here are four action steps to take:

  • Don’t give: Never wire money to them. If you have already, report it to your bank.
  • Cut them off: Stop all forms of communication with the person.
  • Contact the authorities: Call your local police department.
  • Report them: File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
Also, if you’ve fallen victim to a romance scam before, don’t beat yourself up. Take solace in the fact that you have taken steps to protect your online safety going forward.
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