Romance scams around Valentines Day

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COLUMBIA - With Valentine's Day Wednesday and love on the minds of many, the Better Business Bureau is warning of online romance scams.

The BBB released a study that shows an estimated 1 million Americans have been victims of romance fraud schemes. The scams totaled about $1 billion in the past three years.

Michelle Gleba, regional director of the BBB in Columbia, said romance scams happen when, "there's a scammer that will portray themselves to be someone else and often they're on dating social media sites looking for their victims."

Gleba said the scammer will find their victim and spend time, "grooming them and gaining their trust,"

"Sometimes this can take anywhere from several weeks to several months, and once they feel like they've gained their trust they start asking for money," she said.

A Columbia woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she has been scammed more than 10 times on the dating site Plenty of Fish. She called it "embarrassing."

The woman said once she told the scammers she wouldn't send them money, they became mean.

The BBB Scam Tracker reports five recorded romance scams in Missouri.

The most recent happened on Jan. 26.

The St. Louis victim said, "Alhassan Abdulrazak apparently is his real name. He puts a picture of a military man on his facebook. Handsome/muscles etc. He has many pictures of this man and sends them throughout his scam. Tries to strike up a romance and then wanted money."

The BBB released the following tips on how to spot an online romance scammer:

  • Too hot to be true. Scammers offer up good-looking photos and tales of financial success. Be honest with yourself about who would be genuinely interested. If they seem “too perfect,” your alarm bells should ring.
  • In a hurry to get off the site. Catfishers will try very quickly to get you to move to communicating through email, messenger, or phone.
  • Moving fast. A catfisher will begin speaking of a future together and tell you they love you quickly. They often say they’ve never felt this way before.
  • Talk about trust. Catfishers will start manipulating you with talk about trust and how important it is. This will often be a first step to asking you for money.
  • Don’t want to meet. Be wary of someone who always has an excuse to postpone meeting because they say they are traveling or live overseas or are in the military.
  • Suspect language. If the person you are communicating with claims to be from your home town but has poor spelling or grammar, uses overly flowery language, or uses phrases that don’t make sense, that’s a red flag.
  • Hard luck stories. Before moving on to asking you for money, the scammer may hint at financial troubles like heat being cut off or a stolen car or a sick relative, or they may share a sad story from their past (death of parents or spouse, etc.).

The study said law enforcement should do more to draw attention to the scams and let the public know when scammers are successfully prosecuted.

The president of the St. Louis BBB, Michelle Corey said, "We believe this is an under reported crime with many victims too embarrassed to report what has happened to them."