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BLOG: Romance Scams: One of the Cruelest Internet Schemes

The BBB is warning people about an increase in the prevalence of online romance scams.

Romance scams are one of the many Internet schemes that target individuals all over the world. Scammers use dating sites, chat rooms and social networking sites, looking for the “perfect victim.”

They target singles of any age and in any locale, creating fake profiles designed to woo singles and convince them to hand over money. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) warns that while all demographic groups are susceptible to these schemes, criminals tend to focus on people who are over the age of 40, divorced or widowed, as well as elderly and the disabled.

“Online romance scams continue to grow and become more sophisticated each year,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “We’re trying to make consumers aware of some warning signs which might indicate you’re dealing with a scammer when using an online dating service or social networking site.”

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, of the 314,246 complaints they received in 2011, 5,600 were related to romance scams. Women who are 50 and older are said to be the biggest targets of online romance scams.

In some cases, scammers will send their victims flowers and gifts while using stories of personal tragedy, injury, and other hardships to earn trust and sympathy. Common signs you might be dealing with a scammer include: emails containing poor grammar, misspelled words and requests for money. If an email or message you are sent through a dating service or online chat room contains any of these things, you may be dealing with someone intent on defrauding you.

The BBB provides the following tips for avoiding an online romance scam:

  • Consider using an established dating service. Check out their record first at bbb.org.
  • Don’t get involved with a person who claims to be in love from the word go. Scammers usually use emotional ties to increase the chances of getting your money. If your match asks you to pay for their travel expenses, there is a high probability that it is a scam
  • Make sure you only open emails, attachments, and links from people or dating services you’re familiar with. Install updated anti-virus software, and beware of unsolicited emails with subject lines like, “Someone just sent you an e-card!”
  • Never give credit card or online account details to anyone by email and be very careful about how much personal information you share. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with another scam.
  • Consider focusing your efforts to meet someone locally. While it’s certainly possible that special someone lives outside your area, there’s also a far higher risk of running into a long-distance scammer when you’re getting to know someone online.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Visit our Centennial website at bbbis100.org.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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