Beware of online ‘romance scams’

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MOSES LAKE — It’s Valentine’s Day, a time for love and romance, flowers and dinners.

Also a good time for a reminder from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to the lovelorn that the world is full of scammers out there trying to use love to separate you from your money.

According to a study published this month, the BBB says that Americans and Canadians looking for love online have lost nearly $1 billion over the last three years in so-called “romance scams.”

“Singles trying to develop a relationship often turn to an online dating site or app to find someone,” the BBB report said. “Romance scam victims may be male or female, young or old, straight or gay.”

“The common denominator for victims is that they believe in true love, and they believe they have found it,” the report said.

Fraudsters set up fake online profiles at dating sites — one company that screens online dating profiles says that as many as one in seven may be bogus — and often times pretend to be members of the U.S. military, according to the BBB.

One Nigerian scam artist profiled in the BBB report, Olayinka Sunmola, gained the confidence of several women while claiming to be an active duty service member, and stole and extorted as much at least $1.7 million before being convinced in a U.S. court last year.

“Those engaging in online romance frauds try to build personas of people that they think would best attract the opposite sex,” the BBB report said.

To attract women, men will oftentimes claim to be financially successful and often single fathers in need of help, while women will often attempt to attract men by claiming to be young, attractive and in need of financial assistance, the report said.

The report recommends people not give money or important financial information to someone they’ve never met in person, to use a reverse image lookup website like Tin Eye to check to see if a profile photo is used elsewhere on the web, and to do a little online research.

There are also official ways through the U.S. State Department and the Defense Department to transfer money to service members or Americans abroad.

“Although there have been some significant prosecutions, and the online dating sites are taking some precautions to protect their customers, more can and should be done to stop the fraud, protect businesses’ reputations, and provide help for those whose lives have been destroyed,” the report said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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