With Valentine’s Day just a day away, love is in the air. But those trying to find romance or companionship online are still at risk of falling for scams that can drain bank accounts and cause emotional distress.
“Valentine’s Day can bring out the worst in scammers,” said Susan Bach, regional director of the Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin. “The people who are perpetrating this fraud are very sophisticated. These are professional scammers. They are well-spoken and flatter the victims. They say all the right things.
“The victims can lose a lot more than money. They have their hearts broken and may contemplate suicide.”
Romance scams are not a rarity in Wisconsin. Consider these examples.
- A Menasha woman who met a man on a social media dating site never saw him face-to-face, but stayed in touch with frequent text-messaging. As time passed, their relationship seemed to blossom, and the Menasha woman was led to believe that the man she met online had romantic intentions. He told the woman that he operated a charity by selling gift cards to benefit needy children, and she was more than willing to help by buying an assortment of cards — including Google Play, Walmart and Best Buy. She wound up spending $40,000 on gift cards and credit card expenditures. As time passed, the man she met online stopped contacting her. That’s when she realized she had been scammed.
- A Fox Crossing woman met a man online who supposedly was from California and appeared to be a good match. He claimed that he owned a contracting company and had moved to the U.S. from Sweden. He planned to visit her, but canceled at the last minute, saying he had to fly to Amsterdam to take care of some job-site issues. Then he began asking for money, telling the woman by text that he needed $4,500 to get home from Amsterdam because all of his money was tied up in investments. The woman sent the money via Western Union to the man’s secretary in Pennsylvania. Then she sent $2,000 via Money Gram after the man told her his daughter was sick and needed medication. She eventually recognized that it was a scam and tried to get her $6,500 back, but it was long gone.
- A Fox Valley man called the Better Business Bureau to report that he met a woman on an online dating service who he never met in person or talked to on the phone. They communicated via email. Shortly after they met, she contacted the Fox Valley man, saying she had to travel to the Philippines but needed money. Then she emailed him to say that she lost her luggage and needed more money to bail her out of an “emergency bind.” Later, she said she inherited a large sum of money but needed $10,000 to unlock the money. All told, he sent her $30,000 from his life savings until he concluded that he had been ripped-off.
Bach said romance scams occur with regularity, but many victims don’t report the crime to police or to the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker. The tracker received 636 reports in the past 36 months.
“We know this scam is way under-reported because people are embarrassed,” she said.
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Jim Temmer, president and CEO of BBB Serving Wisconsin, said those who go online in search of romance should be mindful of potential fraud.
“Meeting people online may sound easy and safe, but consumers need to keep their guard up to avoid being swindled, hurt or worse,” he said.
What to watch for to avoid the romance scam
- Matches who express feelings of love too quickly.
- Pleas of needing urgent financial assistance.
- Those who claim to be traveling overseas for business.
- Use of bad grammar and misunderstanding the use of American slang.
- Long delays when tough questions are asked.
Source: Better Business Bureau.
Who to contact
For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Andy Thompson can be reached at 920-996-7270 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Thompson_AW.