“Traditional” dating has become less common these days as more people go online to look for love. With an increasing number of people using dating apps, the Better Business Bureau has seen a rise of scammers targeting consumers by tricking them into falling in love with someone who doesn’t exist.

The romance scam, also called “catfishing,” is very similar to other types of consumer fraud. However, in this case, the scammer’s arsenal consists of love and affection. In 2019, 128 romance scams were reported to BBB Scam Tracker across the U.S. and Canada, with a reported $2.6 million total in losses.

These scammers create fake profiles with compelling backstories to gain trust, tricking their victims into sending money and personal information.

The BBB warns consumers of the following love scam operator tactics:

— They claim to be from the U.S., but they are overseas for business or family matters.

— They profess their love at warp speed, usually within 24 to 48 hours.

— They send gifts within the first few weeks of contact both to endear their victims to them as well as to confirm their victim’s address.

— Many claim to have lost a spouse in a tragic accident.

— They insist you keep the relationship a secret.

The BBB offers the following tips to help avoid heartbreak:

— Never send money to someone you have never met and whom you don’t know well. If you are asked to send funds via wire transfer, prepaid credit card, Green Dot Moneypack or any unusual method of payment, discontinue contact immediately. If you refuse to send money to a scam artist, they will move on to someone else.

— Don’t click on links or open attachments. Links can download malware onto your computer. The malware is designed to retrieve information and compromise your identity.

— Never share personally identifiable information. Refrain from sharing banking and credit card information, birthday and Social Security number with anyone you don’t know.

— Don’t be pressured to act immediately. Scammers typically make you think something is scarce. They want to push you into action before you have time to think or to discuss it with a family member, friend or financial adviser.

— Check their photos on search engines. Verify someone isn’t using a fake photo with the “search by image” feature on search engines. If their image pops up with a different name, it is more than likely a phony profile.

— Be cautious about what you share online. Be sure to use privacy settings on all social media and online accounts. Imposters often get information about their targets from their online interactions and can make themselves sound like a friend or family member because they know so much about you.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB at 903-581-5704 or report it via BBB ScamTracker.

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