Beware of romance scams this Valentine's Day

A recent survey shows 50% of online daters in the past five years have experienced catfishing, 30% were asked for money.

ByNydia Han and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Beware of romance scams this Valentine's Day
Experts say red flags of sweetheart scams include someone pushing to establish a relationship too quickly.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Action News has new information on an uptick in romance scams including the growing use of a tactic called "sextortion."

Most victims report being initially contacted via social media and the numbers are alarming. The Federal Trade Commission says last year alone, sweetheart scammers bilked 70,000 consumers costing them $1.3 billion.

If you're looking for Mrs. or Mr. Right online, watch out for catfishing.

"Catfishing is when someone on the other side of the computer is creating a profile that has some fake aspect to it," explained Aura Cybersecurity Expert Hilary Donnell.

That could be a fake name, photograph, job, or an entirely fake profile altogether.

A recent survey shows 50% of online daters in the past five years have experienced catfishing, 30% were asked for money.

The FTC says some of the scammer's favorite lies include: "I or someone close to me is sick, hurt, or in jail." "I can teach you how to invest." "I'm in the military far away," and "I need help with an important delivery."

"They might ask for money or for a gift. They might ask you to invest in a special investment opportunity or cryptocurrency. They might ask you to visit a website that is designed to steal your personal information or your credit card information. They may even ask you to share private photos and use those to blackmail you for money," Donnell said.

It's called sextortion and the FTC says reports of it have increased more than eightfold in three years, with consumers ages 18-29 six times more likely than older consumers to report the scam.

Red flags of sweetheart scams include someone pushing to establish a relationship too quickly.

"Also, avoiding meeting you in person, and avoiding doing video chats are big red flags," Donnell said.

Do an internet search of the person you're talking to, most people have some online footprint, like a LinkedIn profile. If you can't find anything, be wary.

"You can even Google image search the images that they're using on their profile to see where those images may have come from," Donnell said.

If you find those pictures come from a stock image website or belong to someone else stop engaging. Also, be aware the FTC says consumers reported losing more money by sending cryptocurrency than any other method.