How to Avoid Falling Prey to Online Romance Scams

Nearly 15 percent of online dating profiles aren't real people looking for love, but are instead fronts for scammers who are preying on those searching for romance, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois shared the results of their study on these scams in order to issue a warning just ahead of Valentine's Day.

The BBB's first finding was that there is no "typical" victim of online romance fraud. The common thread is that victims are all seeking love online, then get duped into wiring money to their romantic interest.

The study's author, C. Steven Baker, is well-known for exposing fraud, also outing puppy scams and tech support scams in the past year.

Baker, head of international investigations for the BBB, found that scammers take months to gain trust, then start the fraud by asking for small amounts of money.

Scammers often pretend to be U.S. military members, asking victims to wire money for "leave" or for healthcare.

The majority of the fraud originates in West Africa, Russia or Ukraine, according to the BBB, and half-a-million online dating profiles are fake, a front for the fraudsters.

The experts' number one prevention tip was not to send money to someone you've never met in person. They also said to keep communication on the public, monitored site and avoid instant messaging privately.

Online daters should also do some research on their potential love matches, as a "reverse image search" could turn up the same profile or profile picture on multiple sites.

Bad grammar and misspellings may be a clue to fraud, the BBB warned, adding a recommendation to use its online "scamtracker" to report any incidents that may occur.

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