Romance scams on the rise

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    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.

    More info: Seeking Your Valentine Online? Beware: More than one-third of Washington adults confirm first-hand accounts of relationship scams

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