Still munching on conversation hearts? Still enjoying just-beginning-to-droop fresh cut flowers or romantic meal leftovers? Valentine's Day may have come and gone, but for some unfortunate consumers, the sting of falling for a sweetheart swindler can last months - emotionally and financially! It's been more than a year since the fraud experts at the National Consumers League's Fraud Center first identified a new trend in consumer scams: the Sweetheart or Friendship Swindle. While NCL’s Fraud Center only started tracking this type of scam in July of 2007, the Sweetheart Swindle scams gained enough momentum in the second half of that year to propel it to the 2007 top 10 scam list, which is annually released by NCL. According to complaints logged at www.fraud.org in 2007, the average sweetheart lost more than $3,038 to con artists disguised as friends or loved ones. The trend seems to be holding up. In 2008, Friendship/Sweetheart swindles were the 10th most-reported type of scam to NCL's Fraud Center, and - even worse - the average loss for such scams was nearly $12,500! Four times the previous year's average loss. This average loss made friendship/sweetheart swindles the third-most costly type of scam, on average, for their victims. Love stinks, doesn't it? With so many of us turning to the Internet to find dates, friends, community activities, and more, it's no wonder that scammers have cultivated a new way of taking money from their victims. Think you've found a new friend online but something's fishy? Here are some warning signs that your new beau or gal may not be the real deal:
- The person asks you for money, to cash a check or money order.
- Your online sweetie says, “I love you” almost immediately.
- The person claims to be a U.S. citizen who is abroad, and or claims to be well off, or a person of important status.
- The person claims to be a contractor, and needs your help with a business deal.