SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — With Valentine’s day just a few days away, the Better Business Bureau is sending out a new warning about romance scams for both men and women. These are among the most nefarious scams because they play with peoples’ emotions as well as their bank accounts.
“These are smart women. One was a university professor; she liquidated her entire retirement savings of $400,000,” said Jessie Schmidt with the Better Business Bureau.
Schmidt has seen it all when it comes to scams.
She says some of the most heart wrenching she’s dealt with personally are the romance scams.
“‘I can’t believe I fell victim to that.’ Well, they have because they are in the throes of falling in love with somebody and that’s just playing on their emotions, so they’re sad. They’re angry, they’re… they’re embarrassed, they’re heart broken,” Schmidt said.
There are signs to watch for when it comes to romance scams and phony profiles on dating sights or Facebook.
- They want to move from the dating site to direct communication right away.
- They will never video chat.
- They will never meet in person.
- There is always some sort of emergency involving money.
- They ask you to send money, most often with prepaid Visa cards, gift cards, or Western Union.
Another red flag, the person is overseas or in the military. A Minnesota soldier says his picture was used in at least 20 different scams.
According to the Better Business Bureau, Olayinka Sunmola often posed as a member of the U.S. military. He’s a Nigerian citizen who ran his fraud from South Africa.
He told his 30 victims he was a practicing Christian with a strong faith. Sunmola is one of the few scammers prosecuted internationally with the help of the South African Government.
A great way to spot a scam is take a portion of a text or email they’ve sent and copy and paste it into Google. For example, this portion of a letter from a scammer reads “Darling, I have been trying to reach you by phone.” We copy and paste that into Google and page after page about people being scammed pops up. That’s because scammers often use scripts that are used over and over on new victims.
Schmidt says these scammers are heartless and will keep asking for money until the victim is flat broke. The fact is, as long as people are looking for love, scammers will be looking for them.
If someone begins to develop an online relationship, they should reach out for a second opinion from a friend, a family member or even authorities. There’s even a website called scamsurvivors.com, which is full of facts and photos of scammers.