No Valentine? Don't fall for a costly fake

- Valentine’s Day can be emotional, especially if you don’t have that special someone in your life this year.

Emotions can lead to vulnerability, so Pennsylvania State Police are warning of ‘Sweetheart Scams’ on this holiday.

­They have tips for everyone, but particularly users of dating and matchmaking websites, to protect themselves against scams.

Authorities say the sweetheart scam, or romance scam, “is a common way for thieves to trick strangers into sending them large amounts of cash.”

They say, “The perpetrator typically preys on the loneliness of their target to quickly build trust and will then solicit money by saying they need to purchase a passport or plane ticket, to pay off medical bills for a family member, to buy a new computer, or something similar.”

Police offer these reminders:

--Never wire money to someone you have not met in person. Scammers use wire transfer services like Western Union because the transactions are difficult to trace. Other methods include pre-paid credit cards and gift cards.

--Take it slowly. A new romance is certainly exciting, but be wary of someone who says they are “falling in love” after a handful of online conversations.

--Talk to your family and friends. A scammer will likely come up with a reason why the relationship must be kept secret. A trusted friend or relative may be able to offer valuable perspective and spot red flags you have missed.

--Do your research. Scammers will often use stolen pictures and information to create their online persona. A simple internet search may yield multiple profiles with similar photos and information.

--Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t feel right. If you think you have fallen victim to a sweetheart scam, report it to police.

The targets of sweetheart scams are often over the age of 60, but victims come from all walks of life. According to the FBI, Americans lost $197 million to romance scams and similar frauds in 2015.

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