Don’t get scammed this Valentine’s Day with ‘romantic fraud’

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The Better Business Bureau released key findings in connection to romantic fraud scams just in time for Valentine's Day.

According to the Better Business Bureau people have racked up to nearly $1 billion in losses over the past three years. Officials say scammers often gain the trust of their victims over a few months before fully carrying out their intentions.

"We believe that this is an under reported crime with many victims too embarrassed to report what has happened to them," said Michelle L. Corey, St. Louis BBB President and CEO. "Victims can be wiped out financially. Emotionally, it is also devastating. Some victims have considered suicide. If you are going to search for a date online, it's vital that you know the person on the other end of the conversation is who they say they are."

Key findings include:

  •  There is no "typical" victim of romance fraud. They can be male or female, young or old, straight or gay. The common denominator is that they are seeking a loving relationship, and they believe they have found it.
  • Scammers often portray themselves as U.S. military members. Military officials say they receive thousands of complaints yearly from scam victims around the world. Officials note military members will never need money for leave or health care.
  • The majority of romance fraud has its home in West Africa, particularly Nigeria. There also are groups that operate in Russia and the Ukraine that employ online dating sites to defraud victims.
  • At any one time, there may be 25,000 scammers online working with victims. A company that screens profiles for dating companies told BBB that 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles it scans monthly are fake.
  • In conjunction with this study, BBB Serving Western Michigan also held a Press Conference for local news media featuring a Panel Discussion with Chris Becker, Kent County Prosecutor, Nancy Kropiewnicki, Kent County Elder Abuse Coalition Coordinator, and Beth Swagman of Beth A. Swagman, PLLC.

The BBB suggests a website to see if your online romance is a sham. Click here to take the quiz.

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