Valentine’s Day is usually considered a day for love and romance; for dating and discovering more about what Cupid has to bring to one’s life — among other things.
However, for many, it can also become a day synonymous with deception and disaster, the cause of much heartbreak and many headaches.
Because on this special “day of love,” many online criminals set out to take advantage of the hopelessly romantic — or, in some cases, hopelessly desperate — people out there, who are willing to “do all” and “give all” in the name of love.
In fact, according to a news report on CBS4 Denver, romance scams are becoming so common that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation “estimates that for every victim that comes forward, there are probably another 100 that don’t.”
Victims have been known to empty their bank accounts, cash in their investments and refinance their homes — all for the sake of “love.”
Indeed, in this day and age where it is so easy to create a false identity, especially online, falling victim to Internet fraudsters is something that could happen to anyone.
It would help then, to be extra cautious, and to observe the following tips:
Beware of eCard phishing scams and/or spam emails
If you happen to receive a sappy, sweet Valentine’s Day eCard, but have no idea who it came from, don’t open it — it could be part of a phishing scheme, aimed at infecting your computer with malware.
Even worse, you may find yourself a victim of personal identity theft, whereby online thieves obtain your personal information, like your bank account or credit card numbers.
This could, in turn, lead to credit card fraud, where criminals open accounts or purchase items falsely under your name.
Therefore, it would make sense to open eCards and emails only from people you know and trust — no matter how romantic or sweet they may appear.
Be discreet with online dating
Dave Evans, the editor of OnlineDatingPost.com, says scams abound in the online dating world, as one person can create 5,000 to 10,000 profiles.
Impostors may pose on Internet dating sites and take advantage of victims who are hoping to find the “man or woman of their dreams.” Instead, they may find their personal goods stolen, or their online bank accounts compromised.
Don’t be a “fool for love” — no matter how “good” or “perfect” your online suitor or date may seem. Always take extra caution when dealing with someone from an online dating service, as cybercriminals have been known to create fake profiles to convince vulnerable people to give them their personal information.
Never give out your personal information to someone whom you have met and interacted with only online — it will save you from a lot of heartache, and save your finances, too!
Other helpful tips:
- As much as possible, only use paid dating sites.
- Do not trust anyone who claims to fall in love with you too quickly, and asks for your personal information, e.g. your financial details or Social Security number — use your head, not your heart, during such situations.
- Check your potential date or suitor’s Facebook profile. If he (or she) doesn’t have one, it may be a warning sign. Ditto if the profile has fewer than 100 friends. If the person you encounter on an online dating site is not giving enough information to search LinkedIn or Facebook, ask him (or her) for his reasons.
Be careful when buying flowers
Valentine’s Day is often celebrated with the giving and receiving of flowers. If you plan to buy flowers for that special someone in your life, order them as early as possible, to avoid price increases.
If you plan to buy flowers online, make sure that important details, like the florist’s business address or location and all fees, are fully disclosed — before you pay for anything.
Otherwise, you may find yourself a victim of a scam, wherein the florists advertised are actually third-party telemarketers with no experience in the floral industry — or worse, are cyber thieves, out to steal your credit card information.
An example of such a florist scam is the case of Bloomex Inc., which received 273 scam complaints between 2009 to 2012. Customers said that the flowers were not delivered, or that the wrong flowers or arrangements were delivered.
Be careful when connecting with others
If you receive an invitation from anyone to connect on social media websites or dating websites, it would be better to think twice (or even thrice) before accepting it. For your own safety, avoid becoming “friends” with people you don’t know. Never reply to any messages from unknown sources. When it comes to the Internet, you need to remember: “What you see is not always what you get.”
Save yourself from the potential damage caused by online fraudsters — usually associated with credit fraud — by thinking before clicking.
Do away with the downloads
Online thieves may send out Valentine’s Day-themed downloads such as songs, videos or even wallpaper in an attempt to get you to click on malware, which may lead to your personal information being stolen, or your computer getting hacked.
Needless to say, protect yourself by not downloading anything from unknown or suspicious-looking sources or senders.
Protect your payment information
If you receive an email saying that the Valentine’s gift of bouquet of flowers you ordered cannot be delivered due to a problem with your credit card, beware.
Messages like this often direct you to a site that requires you to re-enter your payment information. Do not do so. Otherwise, you may find your bank account balance reduced to a huge, fat zero.
Avoid “too good to be true” offers
When browsing for that perfect Valentine’s Day gift, avoid online offers that seem too good to be true as they most probably are. Avail of online discounts and/or promos only from sources or merchants that you trust.
It may be tempting to just “go with the flow” during special occasions like Valentine’s Day, but doing so may cause you more harm than good. Hopefully, taking note of the tips above will save you a lot of grief later on.
Just in case you find yourself a victim of a Valentine’s Day scam, for example, in the case of a stolen identity, don’t panic. You can still take the necessary steps to minimize potential damages.