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Beware of 'Catfish' scams when dating online

A relationship scam starts simply.

Two people meet online, usually through a dating site. They email, trade pictures, talk on the phone, and soon they’re making plans to meet. But as the relationship takes root, things start to change – and not for the better. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) urges singles to watch out for the warning signs of “catfish” or romance scams.

Dating websites offer convenience and anonymity, which is just what scammers need. You may feel you get to know someone through photos, email or chatting, but it’s easy for the person at the other end of the keyboard to conceal the truth. Many people find true love via online dating sites, but there are red flags to watch for that may indicate you’re dealing with a scammer.

Be wary of anyone who:

■ Asks to talk or chat with you on an outside email or messaging service. Oftentimes, this gives fraudsters an opportunity to carry out scams without the dating site having a record of the encounter. Remember that scammers play on emotion. Anytime people are vulnerable, fraudsters find opportunity.

■ Claims to be from this country but is traveling or says they’re living abroad. Scammers come up with all kinds of excuses why they can’t meet in person – for the time being. Watch out for online daters who claim to be called away suddenly on business, or say that they’re in the military and stationed overseas.

■ Tells you they need money or credit card information. In some cases the scammer will claim an emergency like a sick relative or stolen wallet and will ask you to wire money. The first wire transfer is small but the requests keep coming and growing. Or they may ask for airfare to come for a visit. The payback promises are empty; the money’s gone, and so are they.

■ Sends you email containing questionable links to third-party websites. Third-party links can contain malware that’s designed to steal personal information off your computer. Scammers may use third-party links that look credible, but in reality, they only link to viruses that can lead to identity theft.

To learn more about scams and to read up on the latest schemes, check out BBB Scam Stopper.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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