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Looking for love in all the wrong places may cost you

TNS Regional News • Feb 13, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Valentines Day is a time for romancing that special someone.

It’s also a time when scam artists can break consumers’ hearts and bank accounts by taking advantage of them online with an array of romance schemes.

Since January 2013, there have been at least 55 complaints about “sweetheart scams” with an average financial loss of $25,000, according to Kate Hanson, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

“Be aware that scam artists often play on emotions,” Hanson said. “They may target those who are looking for a friend or a romantic partner, and they may spend time to gain the victim’s trust and build a relationship.”

Hanson also said when ordering flowers, confirm that you are dealing with a local florist. She suggests that if you search online for a florist, be aware that some businesses, including out-of-state businesses, may pay to have their ads appear at the top of your search results. Hanson said to research the business, check its address using an independent search, and look for any complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office or Better Business Bureau.

Sandra Guile, spokeswoman for the Cincinnati office of the Better Business Bureau, said among the top scams for Valentine’s Day are bogus online chat rooms and dating sites as well as using social networking to target victims of all demographics.

Guile said consumers should be on guard on non-established dating sites as some could be located overseas.

“Scammers will work to get more information about you,” she said.

Once a scammer gets to know a victim better, they may suggest communicating through an outside source which may not be monitored, Guile said. She said most times, these scammers will only communicate through email, cell phone calls and instant messaging.

When the victim is hooked, they may quickly profess their love for the victim and send gifts and flowers. She said they’ll almost always share a sad story claiming they need cash for a sick child or if they fake a military person, some money to cover airfare and other expenses to visit, or to cover some of their personal medical expenses. These scammers may also ask their victim to cash a check, ask for bank or credit card information or a pre-paid cash/credit card, or ask the victim to wire cash to them.

Guile said these all should be red flags to a potential victim. Another is receiving emails with questionable links to third-party websites.

Guile also said a scammer may be “catfishing” or working multiple victims at the same time. The term “catfishing” refers to those who use stolen photos and information from other people to build a false identity online in an attempt to trick an unsuspecting, love-struck victim, usually out of their money.

“When they start professing their love for you, that should set off a few bells,” Guile said.

She said another red flag is that the scammer will have a reason not to meet the victim in person and will give various excuses why they can’t make the meeting.

“Trust your gut if you think something is wrong,” Guile said.

The BBB said scammers may also try to empty your bank account by sending an email warning that a gift or flowers that you ordered cannot be delivered because of a problem with your credit card. The scammers direct the victim to a website which asks you to re-enter your credit card payment information, according to the BBB.

“We hear information about it all of the time,” said John North, president and CEO of the Dayton BBB office. “People need to do their homework and due diligence and really research the company. They really need to understand exactly what’s being promised and the deliverables from that company.”


By Ed Richter - Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)

Visit the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio) at www.journal-news.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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