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Valentine's day hearts
Posted on February 11, 2015 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

As Valentine’s Day rolls around again, many people’s thoughts naturally turn to love. And that’s what scammers are betting on.

For those who aren’t in relationships, the time just after February 14th is often when online dating peaks, according to analytics firm iAcquire. In a trend report, a research analyst theorized that singles are sick of seeing their friends’ romantic photos online and get the dating bug.

That leads to increased traffic and signups on dating sites and, unfortunately, also inspires many unsavory individuals to try out new romance scams. In some cases, scammers attempt to get personal information that can be used for identity theft. More often, however, they invent stories that cause legitimate online daters to “help them out” with loans that never get repaid. This trick — called “catfishing” — involves posing as someone else to fool online daters into giving money.

Valentine’s Day scams can hit those who are in relationships, too, especially as they shop for last-minute gifts or exchange romantic notes online. Whether or not you’re part of a couple, here are some strategies to thwart romance scammers:

1. Recognize the signs of catfishing: This isn’t the first time that we’ve written about internet dating and romance scams, but it’s a topic that’s worth revisiting. Those who perpetrate Internet dating scams might be sweet-talking con artists, but it’s easy to spot them if you know how they operate. Catfishers are often located outside of the United States (which they attribute to being in the military, or doing research or academic work). They offer excuses for not having a webcam or phone, and are vague about an actual address. They put the relationship on the fast track and declare love for you almost immediately in an effort to build trust.

2. Shop safely: Even if you’re scrambling for a gift, make sure you’re staying protected by using good online shopping practices. For example, go to a specific retailer’s website rather than doing a Google search for a present and following the link from there. Scammers are adept at creating bogus websites that are designed to collect credit card information.

3. Open e-cards the right way: A favorite trick for romance scammers is the infected e-card, especially one sent from a “secret admirer.” Never click on any links if you find one of these cards in your inbox. And if you recognize the sender, go to the card company’s website and open it there rather than relying on an embedded link. Also be suspicious of any Valentine’s Day-related emails or Facebook messages that contain links to seemingly benign quizzes, surveys or special offers. Clicking on these may cause your computer to download malicious apps.

Love is a beautiful thing, and we certainly need more of it in the world. But this Valentine’s Day, don’t let your good intentions lead you into a romance scam, where Cupid can hit you with more than heart-tipped arrows.

Image courtesy of Flickr user terren in Virginia.