Avoid a Broken Heart & Broken Wallet This Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and love is in the air! Although it may seem like everything is coming up roses, Valentine’s Day has associated risks for people.

In 2016, consumers nationwide reported more than 100 romance scams to BBB Scam Tracker. Unfortunately, almost 50% of reports involved monetary loss, and the median loss, $2,435, was the highest for all scam types.

Even if you don’t encounter a scammer, dating services can still cause problems. In 2016, BBB received over 3,000 complaints about dating services, both online and off. The #1 issue complained about was billing, followed by problems with refunds and exchanges.

Whether you’re looking for love or trying to find the perfect token of affection for your sweetheart, follow these tips from your BBB to have a safe and successful Valentine’s Day:

  • Be wary of romance scams.
    • Romance scams start with fake profiles on online dating sites, created by stealing photos. Scammers often claim to be in the military or working overseas, and never follow through with meeting in person. The scammer takes the conversation off the dating site, and builds a relationship quickly by exchanging photos and romantic messages and talking on the phone. Then, the scammer has a problem and needs you to wire money. The payback promises are empty, and soon the money’s gone and the scammer stops communicating altogether.
    • Be wary of any dating prospect who: always has an excuse to postpone meeting; has a photo that doesn’t match their profile; claims to be from your country but is currently traveling, living or working abroad; or asks you for money or credit card information. Be wary if they are in a hurry to move the conversation off the dating site and “get serious” with the relationship. Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person or provide banking information to someone you don’t know. Stop and think – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Choose a dating service carefully.
    • Many complaints lodged against dating services in 2016 were about cancelling auto-renewing contracts. Consumers attempt to stop the auto-renew, but they either can’t figure out how or it doesn’t go through and they’re still charged. The customer then has trouble reaching customer service. Customers also complain about being unable to receive refunds when unhappy with the service.
    • Before signing up with a dating service, make sure to do your research on org. There you can find Business Profiles that tell you accreditation status, business information, a history of complaints and reviews from past customers. It’s also important to read contracts very carefully and know what you’re paying for and what the payment structure is (monthly, in advance for a year, etc.). Read the refund and cancellation policies as well, and check out their contact page to see if customer service is accessible. Consider it be a red flag if they only have a phone number and no physical or email address.
  • Do your research when buying gifts.
    • Ordering flowers or chocolate online? Make sure the website you’re using is secure. Look for the “https”, where the “s” stands for “secure”, other trust marks and a privacy policy before entering any personal or financial information. Use a credit card as they offer more protection than a debit or prepaid card. Read any guarantees carefully – you want to make sure your gift will arrive on time! See if it’s easy to contact customer service, order early and keep in mind that delivery may be delayed. Be on the lookout for fake websites and phishing emails and don’t click on anything suspicious.
    • If you’re buying jewelry or other big-ticket, expensive items for your sweetheart, do your research first. Read the refund, exchange and guarantee policies very carefully before making your purchase. You can find a list of trustworthy Accredited Businesses on org.

You can find more tips at bbb.org/valentine and bbb.org/romancescam. If you’ve been affected by a scam, make sure to report it to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.

Pearl is the Communications Specialist for Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California (BBB Oakland). She works to advance BBB’s vision of an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other by being proactive in the community and developing relationships with business and consumer groups. Pearl represents BBB at events throughout the Bay Area to educate a wide variety of people. Pearl also manages BBB Oakland’s social media channels.

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Posted in Computers - Internet - Privacy, Consumer Tips, Consumer/Business Services, Scams

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