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Better Business Bureau: Beware of online dating, social networking scams

Dec. 11, 2010 at 6:11 a.m.


By Alan Bligh

Are you looking for love in all the wrong places? The Federal Trade Commission is warning that scammers sometimes use online dating and social networking sites to try to convince people to send money in the name of love. In a typical scenario, the scam artist creates a fake profile, gains the trust of an online love interest, and then asks that person to wire money - usually to a location outside the United States.

Here are some warning signs that someone you met online could be in it for the money:

Wanting to leave the dating site immediately and use personal e-mail or IM accounts.

Claiming instant feelings of love.

Claiming to be from the United States but currently overseas.

Planning to visit, but being unable to do so because of a tragic event.

Asking for money to pay for travel, visas or other travel documents, medication, a child or other relative's hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback, or expenses while a big business deal comes through.

Making multiple requests for more money.

The FTC warns consumers that wiring money to someone they haven't met is the same as sending cash. Once it's gone, it can't be recovered.

Every year at this time, people ask us, "aren't you really busy with Christmas coming up?" Actually, it is rather slow. Only after Christmas do people start complaining. This year has been different in that we have seen an unusual spike in the number of calls concerning counterfeit checks. The con-artists know that people want Christmas money, so they take advantage of the situation. Also, the phony job offers, especially the mystery shopping variety, are out in full force. It's sad, but it is getting harder and harder to trust people who contact you out of the blue with some great deal. If you are ever tempted, please call us. We are concerned that for every one person that has called us that there are 10 who have fallen for a scam.

More than 74 percent of Americans are projected to give money to charitable organizations this year according to Austin-based software company, Convio. BBB warns that the lucrative amount of donations generated drives the creation of phony charities that attempt to take advantage of generous contributors. With multiple channels now available for charity donations, including text messages, social media and email campaigns, fraudulent charities have even more opportunities to disguise themselves. BBB reminds consumers that it is imperative to research a charity's background and ask specific questions before making any donations. A great place to go to check on a charity is www.give.org.

Alan Bligh is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau in Corpus Christi. Contact him by e-mail at abligh@corpuschristi.bbb.org.

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