Take this to heart: Swindlers love Valen­tine’s Day

Albuquerque Journal - - BUSINESS - ELLEN MARKS

If you’re feel­ing ro­man­tic be­cause Valen­tine’s Day is on the hori­zon, don’t get too ov­er­en­thu­si­as­tic. Romance scams ap­pear to be mak­ing the rounds, and you don’t want to be­come a vic­tim of love — there are enough of them al­ready, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures from the Na­tional Con­sumers League.

The cat­e­gory of “friend­ship and sweet­heart swin­dles” made the group’s top 10 list of most com­mon scams in 2018. In fact, that cat­e­gory showed the big­gest jump since the year be­fore, in­creas­ing by more than 45 per­cent. The av­er­age loss re­ported by the vic­tims was $18,831, by far the most fi­nan­cially dev­as­tat­ing of the scams re­ported to the Con­sumers League.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion de­scribes romance scams this way: “Con artist nur­tures an on­line re­la­tion­ship, builds trust and con­vinces vic­tim to send money.”

These crimes are made eas­ier nowa­days with the prevalance of on­line dat­ing and so­cial me­dia. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter study showed that nearly 60 per­cent of U.S. adults con­sider on­line dat­ing a good way to meet peo­ple, and Match.com, one of the most pop­u­lar dat­ing sites, says peo­ple 50 and older are its fastest-grow­ing share of users, ac­cord­ing to AARP.

Through those chan­nels, con artists are able to “cre­ate com­pelling back­sto­ries and full-fledged iden­ti­ties, then trick you into fall­ing for some­one who doesn’t even ex­ist,” ac­cord­ing to the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau.

In some cases, of course, it’s just a sad and lonely per­son hid­ing be­hind a fake pro­file. But more of­ten it’s the first step in a phish­ing scheme to gain your trust and trick you into send­ing money.

The con can con­sist of any­thing from your bo­gus sweet­heart need­ing money to come meet you to he or she need­ing help with a heatlh prob­lem or an emer­gency.

A par­tic­u­larly in­sid­i­ous ver­sion is the one in which the fraud­ster pre­tends to be in the mil­i­tary. This can ap­pear le­git­i­mate be­cause an on­line per­sona can be cre­ated from pub­lic records of cur­rent mil­i­tary per­son­nel. And it’s of­ten suc­cess­ful be­cause “when mil­i­tary mem­bers are de­ployed they are less likely to dis­cover that some­one is us­ing their in­for­ma­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the Iden­tity Theft Re­source Cen­ter.

Here are some warn­ing signs to watch for:

■ Your new honey emails you a photo that looks more like a model from a fash­ion mag­a­zine than a reg­u­lar run-ofthe-mill snapshot.

■ The per­son pres­sures you early on to leave the dat­ing web­site and com­mu­ni­cate through email or tex­ting.

■ He or she lav­ishes you with at­ten­tion, quickly talk­ing about a fu­ture to­gether. “They of­ten say they’ve never felt this way be­fore,” ac­cord­ing to the BBB.

The per­son avoids meet­ing you, with ex­cuses such as he or she is trav­el­ing or liv­ing over­seas be­cause of mil­i­tary duty.

One sure way to pro­tect your­self is easy: never send money or per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to some­one you’ve never met. A big red flag is when the per­son asks you for credit card in­for­ma­tion in or­der to book a trip to see you.

Do re­search. Of­ten scam­mers base their pro­files on photos they’ve stolen on­line. The BBB ad­vises do­ing a re­verse im­age lookup us­ing a web­site like tin­eye.com or images.google.com to see if the same photo ap­peared else­where. You can also search on­line for a pro­file name, email or phone num­ber.

Ellen Marks is as­sis­tant busi­ness editor at the Al­bu­querque Jour­nal. Con­tact her at [email protected]­nal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To re­port a scam to law en­force­ment, con­tact the New Mex­ico Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Di­vi­sion toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.

As­sis­tant Busi­ness Editor

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