NEW YORK (MainStreet) It's one thing to wear your heart on your sleeve when looking for love. It's quite another to hand over your wallet, your identity and your online passwords to a disingenuous Cupid.
The Better Business Bureau is warning those on the lookout for love to avoid falling victim to scammers. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 10,000 complaints about possible romance scams that cost victims an estimated $105 million.
"Romance scams take many forms, but they usually start out with fraudsters quickly expressing feelings of affection," says Mary E. Power, president and CEO of the Council for Better Business Bureaus.
Here are some red flags that could signal that your romance is headed in a very wrong direction.
1. Over-the-top emotions
When a potential love interest displays strong feelings of affection early on in the relationship, take caution.
"Don't trust anyone who "claims love in a heartbeat," says Frank Dorman, spokesperson for the FTC.
Although scammers' strategies can range from striking quickly to leading on a victim for quite some time to build trust, emotions that seem insincere or false will likely surface. Take a step back and realize that there may be an ulterior motive behind these communications.
2. Chatting on an independent site
Many people find love on online dating sites; however, beware if a potential romantic interest requests that you take the conversation elsewhere, such as on a private email account or an instant messenger. This could reveal that he or she is trying to avoid the dating site from monitoring your dialogue or having any record of your encounter.
Also, if a potential love interest has a Facebook account, be careful that it is not a fake profile. Scammers have been known to create profiles with real pictures to deceive targets.
3. Someone working or stationed overseas
The BBB recently issued a scam alert pertaining to scammers, usually male, that lurk on online dating sites and claim to be from the U.S. but are working abroad or serving in the military and stationed overseas. Eventually, your new love interest explains that he wants to meet up in person but doesn't have access to the funds needed to make this trip happen. He asks you to lend him money, but after you send him the cash, you find that he quickly disappears.
4. Requests for money
Any requests for money, in fact, should signal a major red flag, whether it's for a trip to meet up, to resolve an emergency or to help a sick relative. Never send money, make a wire transfer or provide your credit card information to someone you've just met.
"Don't send money to strangers," says Dorman. This includes anything from sending money to help someone after a mugging or robbery to making an online purchase or forwarding a package to another country, he explains.
5. Suspicious e-cards
Scammers can infect your computer with malware that provides remote access to passwords, online banking accounts and computer files. This can be delivered in the form of an e-card, a Facebook message or any email containing questionable links to third-party websites.
Think twice before clicking on any unfamiliar links. Before you know it, your personal information and passwords could be swept away by a scammer.
--Written by Renee Morad for MainStreet