Few things can kill the mood like being scammed.
Yet Valentine's Day, and the days leading up to it, is the peak season for fraudsters who prey on the heart strings, and purse strings, of those looking for love online.
The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center said it received 15,000 romance scam complaints in 2016 alone, according to the most recent data ― a 20 percent increase from the previous year.
The most common type of scam involves an online profile that projects a potential suitor as employed, affluent and trusting, according to Sandra Bernardo, the consumer education manager for Experian.
"Once the scammer has established trust with the target, they unveil a money problem," Bernardo said. "They might need money to come visit or they might have a sick relative; it can range."
Other types of Valentine's Day ruses include phony florists asking for your credit card information or e-cards directing you to suspicious sites, according to Consumer Reports. Cybersecurity provider Webroot found a 220 percent increase in malicious URLs the week before February 14.
Romance scams now account for the highest financial losses of all internet-facilitated crimes, according to the FBI.
Losses exceeded $230 million in 2016, yet the bureau estimates that only a fraction of crimes are even reported, putting the likely actual number much higher.
The most common target of online dating scams are women over age 40 who are divorced or widowed, according to the FBI.
Bernardo offers these tips to steer clear of any so-called sweetheart scams:
- Don't provide any personal information right off the bat, including your home address, work details and educational background.
- Do a quick Google search to see if the information your match provides lines up with what you can find online. A person without an online presence is a red flag.
- Don't use passwords with publicly known information for online dating profiles.
- Do get a second opinion from friends and family who can be objective.
- Don't respond to any requests for money or loans of any kind.
- Do trust your instincts. "If a profile seems too good to be true, then it probably is."
If you believe you are the victim of an online dating scam, report it to the dating site and file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
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