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Better Business Bureau: How to avoid romance scams

  • Special to The Eagle
  • Published Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, at 4:01 p.m.

Random Acts of Kindness Week shares the spotlight with what might be called Random Acts of Scamming as the calendar turns toward Valentine’s Day.

Consumers should remember that scammers are actively searching for the romantically inclined even while others are engaging in the positive aspects of doing good for strangers.

Feb. 10-15 has been designated as Random Acts of Kindness Week this year. This is a week devoted, by those who choose to celebrate it, to doing just what it sounds like: performing an act of kindness each day and posting your experiences on social media sites.

Participants are encouraged to engage in activities like paying for the next person’s purchase while in line at a coffee shop or restaurant, collecting canned goods for a food bank, writing a positive note to a teacher or a classmate, or picking up trash on the ground even if you are not the one who dropped it.

The possibilities are practically limitless and so are the warm feelings of satisfaction that will reward anyone who commits a random act of kindness.

Valentine’s Day, which is Friday, is a time devoted to expressions of love. It also is a good time to remember that some who profess devotion have darker motives.

Scammers work throughout the year to take advantage of people online in the type of romance schemes called “catfishing.” The term refers to those who use stolen photos and information from other people to build a false identity online in an attempt to “reel in” an unsuspecting, love-struck victim.

According to statisticbrain.com, around 41 million single Americans have tried online dating. The Charlotte Observer reports that 17 percent of couples who married in the last three years met online.

But if the trend toward online dating seems to be growing, so are the efforts of scammers to use the websites as a means to trick victims out of their money.

Watch for these indicators that you are being scammed rather than courted:

• The other person seems in a hurry to continue your “relationship” through e-mail, messaging or over the phone rather than on the dating site.

• They profess love early in their communications with you. They have “never felt this way before” and use lots of terms of endearment like “sweetie” and “babe” in their messages.

• They talk about how important “trust” is in a relationship. This is a lead-in to your trusting them when they hit you up for money.

• It never seems to work out that they can actually meet up with you. When they finally agree to, they will need money from you to help finance the trip.

• Bad spelling and grammar and a general misuse of common English terms can indicate they are in another country.

• A financial problem arises for them, which you are asked to contribute a “loan” toward. Do not be surprised if they also want you to keep the relationship secret. An objective outsider’s view of what is going on can lead to their exposure.

Remember that romance scammers rely on quick emotional decisions in order to get money from you. It is an attempt to overcome reason, hoping you will be motivated by your desire to help a loved one in need.

Their stories may be compelling – use of a U.S. serviceman’s identity is a common tactic, again relying on emotion rather than reason.

Visit the BBB Scam Stopper site for information that can reduce the chances that you will be catfished. It was launched by Western Union and the BBB to protect consumers. Never send a money transfer to someone you do not know.

Denise Groene is state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Reach the BBB at 800-856-2417 or www.kansasplains.bbb.org.

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