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Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right can be difficult. With a world spending so much time on smart devices, meeting people online has become standard. According to eHarmony, 40 million Americans use online dating websites; those users range from young to old. With those numbers, Facebook is jumping into the game.

Facebook officially rolled out its dating platform last week, requiring users to create a separate profile to participate. The goal is to match users based on the preferences they pick when creating the profile. Additionally, it uses pre-established Facebook activity and interests. The Better Business Bureau warns users who try out this new platform to watch for the red flags of online romance scams. As dating apps continue to become more innovative and personal, it is critical that users learn the signs of catfishing when talking to a stranger. According to FBI and BBB Scam Tracker reports, Idaho victims lost an average of $16,630 to romance scams last year. In fact, the Northwest is a hot zone for romance scams as Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Wyoming are all in the top 10 states for dollars lost. Scammers target Facebook because of the site’s con-friendly demographics and the vast number of potential victims. A whopping 83% of adult women use the site, as do 75% of adult men, according to SproutSocial. Unlike many social media sites appealing mainly to millennials, Facebook’s audience skews mature — an important factor for con artists looking for lonely people with money.

This is how BBB sees these online scams play out: You meet someone new online and start chatting. Things move quickly in a romantic direction. As the time to finally meet approaches, the person on the other end has some sort of “emergency” preventing them from being able to see you, unless you send money to help. BBB finds in many cases, victims of romance scams do send money.

“The financial losses caused by romance scams can be thousands of dollars or more,” said Charles Harwood, Northwest Regional Director for the Federal Trade Commission. “Just as devastating is the trauma when victims struggle with the conflicting emotions caused by a relationship they believed in deeply and now seems to have been a complete fabrication.”

Romance scams are a growing nationwide problem. Reports filed with the FTC more than doubled from 2017 to 2018 totalling $143 million lost last year.

Here are BBB’s tips on how to spot a scam:

Get Moving: Catfishers try to move off the dating site you started on, Facebook or not, very quickly. The goal is to get the victim emailing or texting as soon as possible.

Love at First Type: Scammers start to talk about a future together extremely fast, often saying things like “I knew I loved you right away” or making plans to get married, have children, etc.

Down on Their Luck: These fake relationships move quickly with the scammer sharing intimate, even sad, stories to gain trust and sympathy before they inevitably come upon hard times in hope of getting your money.

For more information on romance scams and how to avoid being scammed visit bbb.org.

Jeremy Johnson is the Eastern Idaho marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.

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Jeremy Johnson is the Eastern Idaho marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.

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