It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. That makes this a good time to warn you about romance scams, a serious and growing problem.
Yes, you can find true love online – many people have. But you can also get burned by a con artist who knows how to pull at your heartstrings to steal your money.
Victims can lose thousands of dollars, as well as their self-esteem and confidence.
"And it's just so easy to pretend to be someone you're not on the Internet, said Doug Shadel, director of AARP Washington. “You can steal a picture of a beautiful woman and pretend to be that beautiful woman. You can steal a picture of an Army Sergeant and pretend to be that Army Sergeant and you are neither."
There are warning signs that indicate you're dealing with a scammer:
They profess love too quickly.
The person immediately wants to leave the dating website and communicate with you through email or instant messaging.
Your new romantic interest sends you a picture that looks more like a model from a fashion magazine than an ordinary snapshot.
He or she repeatedly promises to meet you in person but always seems to come up with an excuse to cancel.
They make a request for money for any of a variety of reasons: travel, medical emergencies, visas or other official documents, or losses from a financial setback.
“The minute they start asking you for money, even if it's a loan, even if it's temporary, that's another red flag,” Shadel said. “Don’t do it.”
The bottom line, whether you’re starting a new relationship in person or online – especially when it’s online – take it slowly and stay skeptical until you know you're not being targeted by a crook.