"Never send money to someone you haven't met in person...

"Never send money to someone you haven't met in person or give your personal or financial information like bank info or credit card numbers," says Josh Zimmelman of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre. Credit: Getty Images / iStock / kentoh

A broken heart and a hole in your wallet is a painful combination indeed. If you’re looking for love online, this could be you.

The FTC recently released data that consumers reported $201 million lost in online dating scams in 2019, up nearly 40% since 2018.

Nobody says you should give up on love, just be careful when searching in cyberspace. Here’s how to protect yourself in the online dating world.  

Know the red flags

According to the FTC, there are some signals that should get your attention. For starters, be leery if your guy or gal professes love too quickly or claims to be overseas for business or military service. If he or she asks for money and lures you off the dating site, these are reasons to be suspicious. Certainly get your guard up if they say they need money for an emergency, hospital bills or travel, and if they make plans to visit but bail because of an “emergency.”

Crooks are slick. Once they are comfortable communicating with you online, the fraudsters might send you a link to fake anti-virus software that enables the scammers to access personal info on your computer. You may even get tricked into updating your bank or credit information on a fake website. Or it could be something more direct such as requesting a wire transfer for a small loan or purchasing a plane ticket.

“These scammers get more creative every day. There are many times in which the scammer will talk about a great investment ‘once in a lifetime’ deal that they could both make a lot of money on if they had some money to invest. Those have never paid off, not even once,” says Darrin Giglio, chief investigator with North American Investigations in Mineola.

Are you vulnerable?

One group that is particularly vulnerable to online dating scams is the “over 60” demographic, due to digital naivete, says Giglio.

“Your mother or father may be newly divorced or widowed and susceptible to ‘romance fraud.’ The victim will be convinced they are having an online relationship with the perpetrator (under a fake social account) as they email back and forth multiple times daily. I have seen this countless times and any fraud involving the elderly infuriates me personally. These scammers have no regard and put people in a terrible financial position,” says Giglio.

Seniors are often lonely, more trusting and have time on their hands, an ideal set up for falling victim, Giglio explains.

But it’s not only seniors, it can be executives, so busy working that they are looking for a shortcut to love.  Truthfully, anybody can have their guard down.

Who are you talking to?

Check their online social media presence. What is this person posting about? “Is there a history of posting, or did they just appear out of nowhere?  If they aren’t able to meet up in person, have a video call.  You want to make sure the person you’re speaking with is who they say they are,” says Nichole Heid, an accountant with Rosedale & Drapala, CPAs in Wantagh.

Mistakes to avoid

Don’t give any sensitive information such as birth dates, family members’ maiden names, or where you went to high school. Be cautious as these typical questions, which may appear innocent, are often questions and answers to common security queries to reset account passwords,” says Heid.

Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre, says, “Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person or give your personal or financial information like bank info or credit card numbers.”

Don’t ever agree to transfer money for someone else or resend expensive items for someone. “You might just be participating in an illegal sale or money laundering,” says Zimmelman.

Face the facts. Says Zimmelman, “Don’t overlook things like inconsistencies in their story and other red flags. You might think you’re falling in love, but don’t let that stop you from using common sense and protecting yourself.”