Fishin’ for the love of your life? Don’t wind up with a ‘catfish’!

The Internet has changed so much about the way we live. That includes dating. I met my girlfriend online. My best friend met his wife online. I also know some people who got cheated and ripped off by people they met online.

Looking for love often means letting your guard down. Unfortunately, there are tricksters out there who count on that. If you’re looking for the love of your life online, Better Business Bureau would like you to be wary of logging on to an online romance scam.

The 2012 Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) Internet Crime Report showed that 29 percent of the victims targeted with online dating scams were women 50 and older. There are a number of scams designed to take advantage of people seeking romance online. These scams often involve the practice known as “catfishing.” This is when someone assumes another persons’ identity and creates a fake online profile to engage in an online relationship. The term has made its presence in national news and also in a television documentary.

The “catfish” is often looking for personal information and/or financial support. They put a lot of time and effort into building a fake persona and relationship with their victim(s).

According to the IC3, more than 10 percent of all reported online financial losses involved romance scams; resulting in a financial loss over $46,000 for women and more than $9,000 for men.

When considering an online dating service, BBB recommends you:

Research in advance.  Check out the dating service online at to review their history of complaints and reputation with consumers.

Select with integrity.  Request in writing what guidelines the company follows in screening its applicants. For example, does the service conduct a criminal background check for each applicant?

Read the fine print. Specifically keep an extra eye for free trial offers and deals. Some require you to cancel before the trial offer ends in order to avoid recurring charges.  Be sure the contract lists out payment plans, length of contract and refund and cancellation policies in case you are dissatisfied with the company’s service. For payment, use your credit card for extra protection.

Put safety first. Inquire about the company’s policy on disclosure of personal information. Avoid putting too much personal information on your profile, such as home address, work information and telephone number.

Inquire about cost. Make certain you understand the company’s pricing policies before agreeing to the terms of service. Find out if refunds are offered and what conditions determine the refund amount.

To avoid “catfishing” scams, BBB suggests:

Read the signs. Be wary of profiles that lack photographs and information in the “About Me” section, as well as individuals who make the following claims: to have fallen instantly in love or to be from the U.S. and traveling or working overseas. Beware of those who prey on your emotions by claiming to be trapped in a foreign country or involved in an emergency, and needing you to wire them money. This is a red flag for a “catfishing” scam.

Create a separate email. Only use this account for online dating. Not only is it an easy way to keep dating emails separate from personal and professional e-mails, it also keeps your primary email address private.

Speak on the phone/meet in person. It is easier to spot a fraud over the phone than online. If it’s possible, ask to meet in person and always in a safe, public place.

For consumer tips, visit our BBB Quick-Tips video page.

To check out a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit