Scammers take advantage of every major event or holiday to launch their malicious campaigns, and Valentine’s Day is no different. Online dating and social media have made it easier than ever to meet new people and find dates, but those platforms have also created an environment which makes it easy for scammers to attack. Con artists create compelling backstories 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.
“Catfishing, or romance scams, are very similar to other types of consumer fraud,” said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “The scammer presents themselves with a fake identity, then uses emotion to gain trust and take what they want from their victims.”
How the scam works:
Most 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. You may even speak with them on the phone.
Just when the relationship seems to be getting serious, your new sweetheart has a health issue or 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. Often, the scammer stops communicating altogether.
BBB offers the following tips to help keep your heart and your bank account safe.
Too good-looking to be true. Scammers offer up good-looking photos and tales of financial success. If they seem “too perfect,” your alarm bells should ring.
In a hurry to get off the site. Catfishers will try very quickly to get you to move to communicating through email, messenger, or phone.
Moving fast. A catfisher will begin speaking of a future together and tell you they love you quickly. They often say they’ve never felt this way before.
Can’t meet in person. Be wary of someone who always has an excuse to postpone meeting because they say they are traveling or live overseas or are in the military.
Scammer Grammar. Poor spelling or grammar, overly flowery language, and phrases which don’t make sense are common with any type of scam and should be considered a red flag.
Hard luck stories. Before moving on to asking you for money, the scammer may hint at financial troubles like heat being cut off or a stolen car or a sick relative, or they may share a sad story from their past (death of parents or spouse, etc.).
Protect yourself from this scam:
Never send money or personal information. Never give someone your credit card information to book a ticket to visit you. Cease contact if someone starts asking you for information like credit card, bank, or government ID numbers.
Do your research. Many scammers steal photos from the web to use in their profiles. Perform a reverse image lookup using a website like images.google.com to see if the photos on a profile are stolen from somewhere else.
To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.
Read more in “Online Romance Scams: A BBB Study on How Scammers Use Impersonation, Blackmail, and Trickery to Steal From Unsuspecting Daters.” And to learn more ways on how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams”.
ABOUT BBB®: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at BBB.org. The International Association of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for the local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico. BBB serving Central East Texas opened their Tyler office in 1985 and serves 19 counties in East Texas.