Cecilia from Laredo had no idea the man she communicated with for several weeks was a scam artist. “Adam” was a divorced father in Pennsylvania with a large inheritance but needed quick funds to help care for his daughter. Adam moved quickly, using terms like “honey” and calling her the love of his life. But Cecilia knew better. She told Better Business Bureau this week that a friend lost almost $20,000 to a similar online romance scam.
What is an online romance scam? They usually consist of fake profiles (using a real, unsuspecting person’s pictures) on a dating site and the fraudster will take weeks, months, or even years to groom the victim, often isolating them from their friends and family. During this time, they may start requesting small favors or sums of money before they inevitably have some sort of emergency that causes them to ask you for a large amount of money. Often these scammers will pretend to be service members or business executives traveling abroad for an extended period of time. They take time to cultivate what the victim believes is a real relationship, so they feel obligated to send their loved one money in their time of need.
With Valentine’s Day this week, online dating sites may be calling your name. But romance scams are a very real way that consumers find themselves defrauded over the internet. In Texas alone, there were dozens of online romance scams in 2018, with financial losses up to $100,000. Cecilia caught herself just in time and confronted “Adam” about the scam before the calls suddenly stopped.
So how can you keep yourself safe when you’re looking for love? BBB recommends the following:

•Check their photographs. Typically, if an image is used in a scam, you can search the image and find that it is connected to other names or places. However, there are ways for scammers to work around this, so be cautious.

• Search the text. Many scammers are dealing with multiple victims at a time, so they will likely stick to a script. Search any unusual or suspicious phrases in a profile or email. You may get results from others who have been contacted in romance scams.

• Check to see if there is a real business overseas. If the fraudster claims to own or work for an overseas business, you can always call the U.S. Embassy in that country and ask them to verify the company and provide background for you.

• Stay off a site where you’ve been defrauded. Romance scammers often sell lists of their victims to other scammers, so once you’ve been a victim in an online romance scam, you may be more vulnerable to them in the future.

• Don’t send money to someone you haven’t met in person. While this may seem like common sense, most romance scams revolve around elaborate stories that explain why they won’t be able to meet you for quite a while. However, if someone you haven’t met in person starts asking for money, it is most likely a romance scam.

To learn more about online romance scams, visit bbb.org.