As Valentine’s Day approaches, and many turn to the internet to find companionship, investigators at Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas performed an in-depth analysis of BBB Scam Tracker reports filed by Texas consumers in the last five years.
The study highlights the immense cost of romance scams, as well as the frequency of online scams.
Romance scammers typically target victims online. They pose as someone else, often using stolen photos and even fake identification. After forming an online relationship with the victim, the scammer will use an emotional story to convince their target to send them money. Common stories include working overseas and being robbed, needing money to travel to see the victim or needing financial assistance with a sudden health emergency.
Some consumers reported the scammer took months to get to know them and build trust before asking for money. Of the 100 Texans who reported a romance scam to BBB, 54% lost money. On average, the amount lost was $22,842 per victim. Wire transfers were the primary payment method, although prepaid gift cards, cryptocurrency and online payments like PayPal and Venmo were also used. Scammers prefer these because they are difficult -- sometimes impossible -- to trace, and in most cases, victims are unable to get their money back. Data analysis of the Texas romance scam victims revealed male consumers ages 25 to 34 and female consumers ages 35 to 64 were most likely to report a romance scam.
However, reports were filed by consumers of all age groups. Women filed 54% of the reports, men filed 40% and another 6% declined to report their gender. The analysis also revealed most scammers targeted their victims via online contact, such as dating apps, social media or instant message. In fact, BBB Scam Tracker received more than 4,500 reports of Texas consumers interacting with a scammer online.
If you’re looking for love online this Valentine’s Day, use these tips from your Better Business Bureau to keep your heart and wallet safe:
• Never send money to strangers. Do not send money to someone you have not met in person and use extreme caution when dealing with anyone you’ve met online. Scammers can make themselves feel like a worthy romantic partner or trustworthy person, but do not send money, no matter how emotionally compelling their story may be.
• Share carefully on social media. Be sure to use privacy settings on all social media apps and online accounts, as impostors often get information about targets from their online interactions. Consider only connecting with people you already know.
• Don’t believe everything you see. Scammers can easily create official looking seals, photos and documents.
Don’t assume a dating or social media profile is real just because it appears to be. • Watch out for “red flags.” One common warning sign of a romance scam is someone who initiates conversation but is never willing to meet in person. They may have legitimate sounding excuses but are likely attempting to conceal their identity.
Also be wary of someone who makes quick declarations of love. To read more about how to protect yourself from scams visit: https://www.bbb.org/scamtips. To report a scam to BBB, visit: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us/.
ABOUT BBB®: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2018, people turned to BBB more than 173 million times for BBB Business Profiles on nearly 5.4 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. The International Association of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for the local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB serving the Heart of Texas, which serves 105 counties and has offices in Austin, Bryan, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, Midland, San Antonio and Waco.