Fishing for romance this Valentine’s Day? Don’t catch a catfish!

ID-100216914BBB warns online users to beware of scams that could break hearts and wallets 

The Internet can be a good way to find romance–millions of Americans use online dating sites, social media and chat rooms to meet people. Unfortunately, those sites also give criminals an easy way to search for potential victims.

Your BBB warns that scammers sometimes use online dating and social networking sites to convince people to send money in the name of love.

A sweetheart scam, also referred to as “catfishing,” is when someone creates a false identity, usually online, to trick someone into a deceptive romantic relationship.

“Catfish” want personal information and/or financial support. They put a lot of time and effort into building fake personas and relationships. They typically “date” their victims over several months with poetry, flowers and other forms of flattery.

The scammers then lure victims off the dating site and get them to communicate by email or instant message. Once the scammer has won the victim’s trust, the perpetrator presents a crisis that requires money to resolve.

Here are six ways to spot a “catfish:”

  1. Pressure to leave the dating site. They want you to leave the dating site immediately and use personal e-mail, text or IM accounts.
  2. Hasty expressions of love. They express instant feelings of love, although they have very little knowledge of you.
  3. Claims of citizenship. They claim to be from the United States, but currently are overseas, deployed or on assignment elsewhere.
  4. Sudden major expenses. They ask for money to pay for travel, medication, hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback or expenses while a big business deal comes through.
  5. Change of plans. They plan on visiting, but unexpectedly are prevented by a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour. Some may also say they’re out of the country for business or military service.
  6. Requests for money. They make multiple requests for more money. They may even test you and ask for a little at first and then continue to ask for larger amounts.

For those in search of love online, BBB offers the following tips:

  • Never wire money. It is difficult to get money back from people who may be misrepresenting themselves once it has been sent through a wire service.
  • Put safety first. Remember that all personal information provided will be made available for all those on the site to see. Avoid putting too much personal information on your profile, such as home address, work information or telephone number.  
  • Take the time to research individuals. If you see any red flags in your communication with someone, search his or her name through search engines and on social media sites. Copy and paste portions of your emails into search engines to see if they have been associated with scams.