title. Keeping yourself safe this Valentine's Day
author. Rachelle Prince ()
How are you protecting yourself and your heart online this Valentine’s Day?
While doing background research for our latest area of interest, I came across a wealth of cyber-safety tips addressing this question. More specific to our purposes: romance scam prevention tips. Romance scams, or online dating scams, are increasingly prevalent as millions of Americans visit online dating websites every year hoping to find that special someone (if you want a funny first-hand account of a potential scam, check out this cautionary tale from Salon Magazine).
In fact, romance scams result in the highest amount of financial losses to victims compared to other online crimes. Our team wanted to put this research to use during a time when romance is particularly salient. So here goes all you cyber-savvy love-birds, we give you the top 3 tips and plenty of helpful resources to protect yourself and others from more than you bargained for this Valentine’s Day.
When it comes to online fraud, there are a variety of scams to look out for, but the targeted outcome is always the same—take your money and run. There are several resources for internet users to protect themselves against online fraud and romance scams, in particular. Some sources even offer interactive elements for the more visual learners. Staying one step ahead of scammers has never been easier from top safety tips, to email alerts, and free online fraud risk assessment quizzes.
More tangible protection exists when it comes to online fraud prevention. Although software may seem like a good idea at first, it is recommended that people do their due diligence before downloading anything to their personal computers—there are tons of bogus software packages out there that would love nothing more than to destroy your computer from the inside; but, not before stealing any identifying information left behind like credit card numbers and banking passwords. If you’re active on an online dating site be careful about what you post and be weary of people trying to take your relationship off the hosting site quickly.
If you do develop a romantic relationship online, that's great! But, please consider the following FBI tips:
Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere;
Go slow and ask lots of questions;
Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
And beware if:
He or she seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service to go offline;
He or she requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you;
He or she promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious;
He or she presses you to leave the dating website and communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging;
He or she claims to be from the U.S. but is traveling or working overseas;
He or she makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event; or
He or she asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
If you think you or somebody you know may be getting scammed, report it to the proper authorities. There are several private organizations who offer the reporting service online, although we would recommend going to government agencies directly, i.e. the Department of Homeland Security or the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center in order to streamline the process.
As communication researchers, we can focus on the positive aspects of computer mediated communication and online dating technologies. However, we must remain vigilant of all potential threats—take the good with the bad—expect the best, but consider the worst. Most of all, stay safe out there this Valentine's Day.