Valentine’s Day is a popular time for people who are hoping to find love online.
But while you might be looking for love, there are others who are just trying to take your money!
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), in 2016 American consumers spent $19.7 billion on Valentine's Day, up from $18.9 billion in 2015 -- making Valentine's Day one of the top three consumer spending holidays of the year.
And just like any other time of year when there's a big spike in spending, scammers are working overtime around Valentine's Day in an effort to cash in on some of that money that's going around -- since there's a lot of it!
From flower scams to fake dating profiles, there are several different tactics the crooks are using to catch people off guard.
How to avoid getting scammed on Valentine's Day
The BBB says it sees a big increase in the number of complaints this time of year. So here's a look at some of the most common Valentine's scams and tips from the BBB on how to avoid them!
- Make sure you order early and allow enough time for shipping. Also, verify with the florist the date and time is guaranteed beforehand.
- Obtain a receipt and ask about the stores refund policy. Ask what would happen if the flowers were late or never show up, and make sure the policy is clearly listed.
- Verify the florist's actual street address and phone number in case you do need to adjust your order.
- Pay with your credit card if possible, that way if there is a problem with your delivery (like them not showing up at all) you can dispute the charges with your credit card company if you are unable to resolve it with the florist you purchased through.
In 2016, the BBB received more than 5,100 inquiries from consumers looking for trustworthy jewelers. And with shoppers expected to spend about $4.3 billion on jewelry this Valentine's Day, the BB BBB recommends you check out an accredited jewelry store in your area -- in addition to the following tips:
- Research the type of jewelry you want and educate yourself on the industry. A diamonds value is based on the four C's - cut, caret, clarity and color. The more you know about the product the harder it is to get scammed.
- Ask friends and family for recommendations on who they do business with, or if they've heard anything about the jeweler where you want to shop at.
- Ask for the stores refund and return policy beforehand, and make sure it is clearly listed somewhere - like your receipt.
Phishing & delivery scams
Any time you get an email about delivery issues, you should always be skeptical and contact the company directly! Here are some tips to avoid these scams:
- You may receive an email from a floral shop asking you to log in and re-enter your credit card information or else they won't be delivered. Once you log in you just exposed your credit card information to scammers. Call the company directly if you receive such email.
- You may receive an email about a package you didn't send or a delivery you didn't expect. If you receive an email of this type don't open it, especially if it asks you to download something or click to a separate link. That email may be riddled with viruses you just downloaded onto your computer. You should be able to successfully send and receive Valentine's Day gifts without having to correspond with the company through email.
Online dating scams
Catfishing is a term used when a person poses as someone else online to fool another person -- typically someone looking for legit dating opportunities.
Very often, these hoaxes are carried out by crooks who are just after your money!
"The season of love is the perfect time for scammers to prey on those feeling sad about spending Valentine's Day alone," says the BBB.
So the BBB recommends you ignore anyone who:
- Asks to talk outside email or messaging service on the dating site. This allows the fraudster to carry out the scam without the dating site having record of the encounter.
- Almost immediately declares love for you without ever meeting you or knowing anything about you.
- Finds excuses for not meeting with you or even video chatting with you over Facetime or Skype.
- Claims to be from this country but is currently traveling, living, or working abroad. Be cautious when they claim to have been called away suddenly or say they are in the military stationed overseas.
- Asks for your credit card information or money for an "emergency" like a sick relative, stolen wallet, or they need help with an emergency finance. They may ask you to wire money which starts out with a small amount then always increases. They may also ask for airfare to come visit you. They may promise you a lot, but the promises are always empty and once your money is gone so are they.
Gift cards are always a popular go-to holiday gift. But before you grab the first card you see, follow these tips to avoid getting scammed:
- Carefully examine the gift card before you purchase it. If you notice the packaging is tampered with, or if the PIN number is exposed, put the card back and grab another one.
- Try and grab a gift card stored by the counter. If it is on an open rack a scammer can easily gain access to the card before you buy it, and once you purchase it and load money, the scammer can use the cards value before you are able to redeem it.
- Keep your receipt as long as money is stored on the card. Some retailers can track where the gift card was purchased, activated and used. They may be able to replace the card for you with a present receipt.
More tips to avoid online scams
- Be wary of unexpected emails containing links or attachments: If you receive an unexpected email claiming to be from your bank or other company that has your personal information, don't click on any of the links or attachments. It could be a scam. Instead, log in to your account separately to check for any new notices.
- Call the company directly: If you aren't sure whether an email notice is legit, call the company directly about the information sent via email to find out if it is real and/or if there is any urgent information you should know about.
- If you do end up on a website that asks for your personal information, make sure it is a secure website, which will have "https" at the beginning ("s" indicating secure).
- Look out for grammar and spelling errors: Scam emails often contain typos and other errors -- which is a big red flag that it probably didn't come from a legitimate source.
- Never respond to a text message from a number you don't recognize: This could also make any information stored in your phone vulnerable to hackers. Do some research to find out who and where the text came from.
- Don't call back unknown numbers: If you get a missed call on your cell phone from a number you don't recognize, don't call it back. Here's what you need to know about this phone scam.
- Be cautious of any notification from an “automated message system” that states “Click on this link for details.”
For basic protection, use anti-virus and anti-malware software on all of your devices and make sure to keep it up to date. See our Virus, Spyware and Malware Protection Guide for links to free options.