Catfish Scams and Tax Preparers

February 13, 2013 4:36:43 AM PST
Valentine's Day is a day for romance, but it can also be an opportune time for scammers to take advantage of those looking for love online.

Better Business Bureau is urging consumers to proceed with caution before letting their hearts ? and their money ? get stolen. Perhaps you've seen the documentary "Catfish," or the MTV reality show of the same name. A "catfish" is someone using social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.

Relationship scams can happen to anyone. You meet a great person online, everything seems to be going great but you aren't able to meet yet for some reason (distance, military deployment, work travel, etc.). Suddenly your online love interest has an emergency and asks you to wire money. If you do, he or she may continue to find more reasons to ask for money from you?or may disappear. Sometimes the catfish's victim is asked to receive funds from the victim of another scam and rewire it to the catfish.

The internet provides a great opportunity to expand your social network," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "However, we must remember that people may not be who they seem to be online, it's extremely important to use the internet wisely."

BBB and Western Union have partnered to offer consumers tips on how to avoid scams. Here are some ways to stay safe from relationship scams:

Be on your guard. Only send money to people you have met in person. Be especially cautious with people you meet online, even if you correspond with them via email or phone. Be especially wary of anyone who asks you to leave the dating website immediately to continue your conversation through email or IM, as this allows fraudsters to carry out their scam without the dating site having a record of your encounter.

Be cautious if someone claims to be local but is currently out of the country. Fraudsters could be operating from overseas, making it more difficult for authorities to track them down. Never give your banking information to people that you have not met in person or businesses that you don't know.

Always verify every emergency situation before sending money. Fraudsters can trick their victims in a variety of ways. Sometimes they instantly express feelings of love and other times they lead their victims on for a while. No matter how much your relationship might seem like the real thing, you should be suspicious if someone starts asking for information like credit card, bank or government ID numbers or to send money.

Visit BBB's website for more information on scams at ###

As a private, non-profit organization, the purpose of the Better Business Bureau is to promote an ethical marketplace. BBBs help resolve buyer/seller complaints by means of conciliation, mediation and arbitration. BBBs also review advertising claims, online business practices and charitable organizations. BBBs develop and issue reviews on businesses and nonprofit organizations and encourage people to check out a company or charity before making a purchase or donation.