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The Better Business Bureau found that an estimated 1 million Americans have been victimized in romance fraud scams with losses nearing $1 billion over the last three years.

As the holidays approach, it can be a lonely time for many who may turn to social media for companionship. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of this and create a long con to slowly earn a victim’s trust. The scammer asks for small amounts of money to feel out the victim. If their victim gives up the cash, they will begin to ask for more, and they’ll often increase the amount they need.

According to BBB Scam Tracker, a woman here in the Magic Valley reported losing $8,800 to a romance scam last month. The con artist spun her a tale of working as an underwater welder overseas. As the communication went on, he claimed he had a stroke and needed money to get back to the U.S. to be closer to her.

Unfortunately, this is a story that happens all too often. While there is no “typical” victim of romance fraud, the common denominator is that they are seeking a loving relationship — and they believe they have found it.

Scammers often portray themselves as U.S. military members. Military officials say they receive thousands of complaints yearly from scam victims around the world. Officials note military members will never need money for leave or health care.

At any one time, there may be 25,000 scammers online working with victims. A company that screens profiles for dating companies told BBB that 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles it scans monthly are fake.

BBB offers the following tips for daters to avoid being caught in a romance scam:

Protect your identity and your wallet.

  • Scammers prefer prepaid cards and money transfers. Never send money or any personal information to someone you’ve never met in person.

Think before going from public to private.

  • Be hesitant if the conversation moves from a monitored site like social media or a dating site to a more private form of communication like email or instant messaging.

Do your research.

  • Pour over the profile image and description. If it sounds too good to be true, verify it. You can perform a reverse image search to see if the profile photo has been used on other websites.

If you feel like you’ve been victimized, report it to BBB’s Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker. You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI.

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