Romance scams on the rise, says BBB – NBC Chicago

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), romance scams peak around Valentine’s Day, and the organization has seen an increase in complaints over the past year.

“The Federal Trade Commission reported that approximately $300 million was lost over the past four years,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB serving Chicago and northern Illinois.

Only 10% of victims come forward, often because of the shame associated with losing money online, according to the BBB.

A Rockford woman shares her story, however, as a warning to others.

“A soldier wrote me a very nice message on a [Facebook] post and just said you seem like a nice person and I’m in Syria,” Karen Hoffman said of the man claiming to be a high-ranking army general.

“But then he started texting me, and he got more and more demanding. He was asking for all kinds of information,” she said.

“It was all day, all night. I thought, he’s a general in Syria, and he has nothing to do but message me?”

The messages started in January. Hoffman says she wasn’t looking for love. On the contrary, coming from a military family herself, she felt she was fulfilling her civic duty by being friends with someone serving overseas.

“I thought why not? I had pen pals back in Vietnam.”

He quickly asked for her phone number to move the conversation offline. That’s a big red flag, according to the BBB.

“When you leave the website and start communicating via SMS, Skype or other means, the protection isn’t really there for you,” Bernas said.

According to Bernas, the hardest hit victims are usually over the age of 55. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, three in 10 American adults have used a dating website or app to find a romantic partner.

When Hoffman noticed too many red flags, she searched Facebook for the man’s name. She found over 70 profiles using the same name and pictures.

“That’s when I found out there was a woman he had scammed out of $20,000. Another woman out of $50,000,” Hoffman said.

“I was angry, and when I saw that, I wrote back to him. I said, ‘I just found out you’re a scammer and I want you to know that.’ When he replied it was in broken English. Then he threatened to kill me,” she said.

She immediately reported her experience to the BBB.

Online reverse image searches can be a way to protect your heart and your wallet. The BBB also suggests never sending money to strangers.

“A request for money is ‘advice to the scammer’. Never give money to someone you haven’t met in person. Be especially careful if they ask you to send money by wire transfers, money orders, or prepaid cards, as these payment methods are untraceable and cannot be returned immediately with anyone who requests money online,” Bernas said.

They also suggest that you take it easy. A red flag is someone who wants to get serious very quickly and not meet first. Take your time getting to know your partner and make sure it’s who they say they are.

Karen’s advice: if it’s someone outside of your community, “they’re not looking to have a romantic relationship with you. They’re looking for your funds.”

The BBB urges anyone who thinks they have been involved in a scam to report it to the BBB’s Online Scam Tracker.

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