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Don't Send Money to Valentines You Haven't Met, Western Union Warns

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2014-02_9ca1d1703a.jpgalga38/Thinkstock (NEW YORK) -- When it comes to matters of the heart, logic sometimes is thrown out the window in favor of the love of your life whom you met online. Money transfer company Western Union has had enough of the dumbfounding and tragic stories of people who have been duped into giving money online and is issuing a warning this Valentine’s Day: “When dating online, never send a money transfer to someone you have not met in person.”

People lost more than $55 million to romance scams in 2012, according to the Justice Department’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which received 4,467 complaints of romantic cyber criminals that year.

In response to the large financial and emotional burden from these scams, Western Union, based in Englewood, Colo., teamed up with the Better Business Bureau to try to prevent sob stories this week and offered tips on how to spot a scamming Valentine.

The two groups say to watch for these four warning signs from your online love:

  • Asks to talk or chat through an outside email or messaging service, allowing fraudsters to perform scams without the dating site having a record of the encounter
  • Claims to be from this country but is currently traveling, living or working abroad
  • Asks you for money or credit card information
  • Sends you emails containing questionable links to third-party websites

According to IC3, complaints about romance scams tend to come from older people. And declarations of love come very quickly.

“They often claim to love you within 24-48 hours,” the IC3 report states.

Seniors are particularly vulnerable because they may have lost a spouse and are lonely, said Shelley Bernhardt, Western Union’s director of consumer protection, who has been with the firm for 15 years.

“But anybody looking for somebody can fall victim to this scam,” she said.

With the proliferation of dating sites, such as sites for seniors and particular ethnic backgrounds, fraudsters can target victims more easily and move a conversation along.

“People want to find the love and are blinded by that emotion,” Bernhardt said. “They don’t see the red flag. That’s when someone starts asking them for money. It’s great to meet people online but you shouldn’t have to send them money. They think they’re going to meet this person and get married.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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