CLEVELAND — Tuesday is officially Valentine’s Day.
And while love is in the air for some, others are still out there looking to find their perfect match.
Officials say crooks are working overtime and cashing in on the dating market.
That means a surge in romance scams happening here in Ohio and across the United States.
The scams, where thieves pretend to be romantically interested in their prey to scam them out of money, are becoming more elaborate across all age groups, and that’s due, in part, to social media, dating and gaming apps.
Experts say to trust your gut and vet all dating profiles.
If the person seems too good to be true, they probably are not real.
Before you swipe right on a dating app or seek out your perfect match online, experts want you to be on high alert this Valentine’s Day season.
Teams of cyber criminals, typically working together overseas, are looking to cash in on your kindness.
“Unfortunately, when you’re looking for love, there are a lot of people looking to target you,” Sue McConnell, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Greater Cleveland said.
Romance scams have taken over and reached an all-time high due to the pandemic with so many people spending time online.
The FBI reports at least 24 thousand people fell victim in 2021 and lost at least $1 billion dollars due to the scams.
McConnell says cybercriminals are shifting away from wire transfers and gift cards. They now want cryptocurrency because it’s not government regulated, there are no safeguards and you can’t track it.
“I mean, the money’s gone. I don’t think people realize that they’re, you know, you put your money in a bank and that has FDIC protection. But you put your money in cryptocurrency, you don’t have the same kinds of protection,” McConnell said.
McConnell says if you’re on dating apps, be on the lookout for “love bombers”, those who profess instant love and gratification toward you in a short period of time. Next, they typically claim they need money for a medical emergency or abrupt accident.
In addition, many victims have reported thinking they found love with a service member. The service member will typically claim to be too busy to talk over the phone because they’re overseas then ask for gifts or cryptocurrency frequently over time.
When in doubt McConnell says to verify the person’s profile picture.
“If you are looking at a photo of somebody, you can right-click on the photo and search it on Google Images.”
Romance scams have become such an issue recently that Match Group, which is the parent company for Tinder, Match, Hinge and Plenty of Fish has warned users.
They’ve now added selfie face recognition and video chat options to vet your potential mate.
In the meantime, McConnell says always Google the person’s name, and even do a search on Facebook.
In many of these cases, it’s the same profile working multiple victims at once.
“See if it is appearing online with warnings from other people about this person— that they are indeed doing a romance scam,” McConnell said.
In many instances, these cases go unreported due to embarrassment.
Officials say it’s vital to report them.
You can send reports to the BBB’s Scam Tracker here: Find and Report a Scam | Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) OR Internet Crime Complaint Center(IC3) | Home Page.
Strength in numbers and filing reports will curb the scams long term.