Internet dating and romance scams, commonly called “sweetheart scams,” target people with online dating profiles or through social media networks, and are becoming more common. The Internet makes it easy for people to create fake identities, using other people’s pictures to pretend they are attractive and interested in you.
After a bond has been formed, the scammer will typically ask to borrow money, either for a travel expense to come visit, or because of an “emergency” to one of their family members or even to themselves.
The State Department offers these tips on how to recognize sweetheart scams:
- The scammer and the victim meet online – often through Internet dating or employment sites.
- The scammer asks for money to get out of a bad situation or to provide a service.
- Photographs that the scammer sends of “him/herself” show a very attractive person. The photo appears to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photographic studio.
- The scammer has incredibly bad luck— often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized — usually all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
- The scammer claims to be a native-born American citizen, but uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker. Sometimes the scammer will use eloquent romantic language that is plagiarized from the Internet.
The FBI also offers additional advice on dealing with sweetheart scams. You can report Internet scams to www.ic3.gov.
Learn more about sweetheart scams and how to avoid them.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning small businesses that an e-mail with a subject line “NOTIFICATION OF CONSUMER COMPLAINT” is not from the FTC. The e-mail falsely states that a complaint has been filed with the agency against their company.
The FTC advises recipients not to click on any of the links or attachments with the e-mail. Clicking on the links may install a virus or other spyware on the computer. The FTC’s advice is to delete the email.
Learn more about how to prevent malicious software (malware).
Shopping online can be easy and convenient, especially during the holiday season when stores are packed with shoppers and it’s harder to find what you want. However, scammers are always looking for ways to get your money or personal information, so it’s worth taking a few moments to learn how you can protect yourself when shopping online.
Consider these tips:
How to Avoid Scams
Minimize risks by shopping at well-established online stores with a good reputation. You can often learn a lot about the store by looking at comments and feedback from other shoppers.
Also, when shopping online:
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards. Credit cards offer better protection against unauthorized purchases, as you are typically only responsible for $50 worth of unauthorized purchases, if that. Debit cards generally don’t offer this level of protection.
- Calculate the total price of your purchase. Before clicking on “buy,” make sure the price includes shipping and handling, insurance, taxes and anything else that you expect from the purchase, such as discounts or coupons.
- Read the return policy. Returns are part of the experience of shopping online, and each store has its own return and exchange policy. Some might charge fees for restocking products or for resending merchandise. By reading the return policies you will know what to expect.
- Avoid shopping in stores outside the United States. This can help you avoid problems if you need to return or exchange items or resolve other disputes. Online retailers in the United States are subject to U.S. consumer laws and therefore offer protection to the buyer.
How to Protect Your Personal Information
Your personal information can be as valuable as money to a scammer. Scammers can use personal information like your credit card number or Social Security number to shop or steal your identity. To protect your personal information:
- Shop at secure sites. When paying, make sure the website address begins with https (the “s” at the end means it’s secure). It also means the website encrypts the information it sends.
- Be careful when sharing your personal information. Don’t provide your personal information in exchange for prizes or special offers. It might be a trick to get you to give away sensitive information. Also, avoid sharing your Social Security number and don’t send your personal information via e-mail. It’s not safe.
- Be careful when using public Wi-Fi networks. The safest public networks are those where you have to type in a password. Even so, you should always use secure sites (with the address beginning with https) when shopping online.
- Monitor your statements. Read your monthly statements to make sure there are no unauthorized purchases on your bank or credit cards. If you find unauthorized charges, contact your bank or financial institution as soon as possible.
There are reports that FEMA is paying $1,000 to go to New York and New Jersey to clean up debris. This is FALSE. Learn the truth about this rumor and others.
Scams often follow disasters. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns to expect scams that prey on disaster victims in need of assistance and generous Americans hoping to contribute to the recovery. Here’s how to protect yourself.
For people considering donating:
- Donate to charities you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight.
- Look closely at the names of the organization. Some fake charities try to gain your trust by using names that are similar to legitimate charitable organizations.
- Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and what percentage of your donation goes to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer or don’t like the answer you get, consider donating to a different organization.
- Do not give out personal or financial information – including your credit card or bank account number – unless you know the charity is reputable.
- Never send cash. You can’t be sure the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
- Don’t donate to unknown individuals that post their needs on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. They may actually be fake victims.
- Check out a charity before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
Find out how to donate effectively and safely.
Fraudsters target disaster-affected areas, hoping to cash in on property owners’ insurance settlements and financial relief from the federal government. Home and business owners who need to hire a contractor should:
- Check the contractor’s identification, and references as well as licensing and registration requirements.
- Ask for copies of the contractor’s general liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
- Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance.
- Deal with reputable people in your community.
- Beware if the contractor comes door-to-door or seeks you out
- The FTC’s 3 Day Cooling Off rule gives you three business day to cancel home repair work, without penalty.
- Call local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau if you suspect a con.