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Don’t fall for ‘catfishing’ romance scams this Valentine’s Day, FTC warns

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For happily joined couples, Valentine’s Day is for romance and flowers, but for those without a significant other it painfully becomes “Singles Awareness Day.” Single parents, juggling child rearing and job responsibilities, may find online dating and social media sites practical places to find love. Scammers find these sites lucrative fishing grounds.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Education Specialist Jennifer Leach advises consumers to proceed with caution in online relationships. “Those who use dating sites can attest: you’ll meet some nice people there – and you’ll probably meet some weird people, too. You’ll have good dates and bad,” writes Leach in her Feb. 12 blog, “… unfortunately, as some people can attest, you might just meet some scammers.”

“You may believe that you’re getting to know someone through photos, email or chatting, but it’s easy for the person at the other end of the keyboard to conceal the truth,” says Claire Rosenzweig of the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Leach and Rosenzweig identify the red flags that may indicate an online romancer may be more interested in your wallet than in developing a romantic relationship.

  • Requests to move relationship off a dating site to private email or messaging

Most dating sites have built-in protections for users. At the very least, a dating site will keep records that could be used to prosecute scammers. If an online acquaintance, very early in the relationship, asks to continue corresponding through emails or messaging, this may indicate he or she (and do you really know the gender of the person you are chatting with online?) has something to hide.

  • Declares love for you after minimal contact

You may be exceptionally charming and attractive, but be wary of anyone that claims to have fallen in love with you after a few messages and a photo.

  • Cannot meet you via webcam, phone or an in-person meeting

If your new friend has multiple excuses why a face-to-face meeting or even a phone call is impossible, you should be suspicious.

  • Claims to be an American citizen working or traveling abroad

Scammers from foreign countries may make you feel comfortable by claiming to share your nationality. Some of these claims may be completely legitimate, perhaps a member of the military stationed overseas, but proceed with caution nonetheless.

  • Asks for credit card information or money

This should be a big heads-up. Scammers create all types of stories to separate their victims from their cash. It could be a request for airfare to get back home or a medical emergency. “If you wire money,” says Leach, “it’s gone. Buh-bye. You’ll never see it again. Good for scammers, bad for you.”

Rosenzweig notes that these scammers may send third-party links in an email or message. Clink on these links, and you may be downloading malware that will steal sensitive information from your computer. Don’t open any links sent to you by someone you’ve never met, even if the links look legitimate

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