Online romance scams heating up in Southwest Florida

To obtain more information on romance scams, visit LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com or contact the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Line at (239) 477-1242.

In the old Waylon Jennings song "Looking for Love," the songwriter tells a story about his attempt to find true love; only to discover that he’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. This familiar song describes the desire each one of us has to love and be loved, yet unlike the song we don’t always end up finding that perfect person we’ve been dreaming of.

Unfortunately, looking for love in all the wrong places can often be the case when searching for friendship, romance, love and even marriage on the internet. Every day thousands of people who join dating sites, social networking sites, chat room and instant messaging sites are becoming victims of the "Romance Scam."

Sadly, scammers are targeting individuals over the age of 40 who may be emotionally vulnerable due to a recent divorce or death of a spouse, though all age groups are at risk, including the elderly.

If you or someone you know is involved in online dating, be forewarned: that online contact could be a criminal sitting in a cyber cafe with a well-rehearsed script that’s being used on thousands of other innocent victims.

Scammers play on the victim’s vulnerability by declaring their undying love, sending flowers or gifts and promising a fairy tale life together. They will also use stories of severe life circumstances, family tragedies, injuries to themselves while serving overseas in the military, or other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes. Eventually as the relationship progresses, scammers will ask the victims to send money to help overcome a financial situation they claim to be experiencing. These are all lies intended to take money from unsuspecting victims.

In another scheme, scammers ask victims to receive funds in the form of a cashier's check, money order, or wire transfer, claiming they are out of the country and unable to cash the instruments or receive the funds directly. The scammers ask victims to redirect the funds to them via a money order or by opening a bank account and providing the love interest the bank account number. Scammers may also ask victims to reship packages instead of redirecting funds. In these examples, victims are instructed to pick up merchandise at a store or shipping outlet then forward the merchandise to an address which is usually out of the country. Most likely the merchandise has been purchased online by the scammer with a stolen or fraudulent credit card.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Line has received complaints from victims whose online love interests are located in the countries of Nigeria, Ghana, England, Russia and Canada.

The Sheriff’s Office encourages all internet users who are considering an online romance to remember that scammers will use whatever personal information you provide to quickly paint themselves as your perfect match.

To obtain more information on romance scams, visit www.LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com or contact the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Line at (239) 477-1242.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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