(BPT) - Online dating and social media have made it easier than ever before to find your special someone. However, scammers are always ready to take advantage of well-meaning singles looking for love. Using the anonymity of the web, these con artists create compelling stories and fake identities to trick you into falling in love with someone who doesn't exist.
However, you don't have to be a victim of a romance scam. To help you stay safe while searching for a romantic partner, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has offered the following five safety tips.
1. Don't ignore the red flags
When you fall for someone, it's easy to ignore warning signs that they may not be who they claim to be. When dating online, watch out for the following red flags:
If you spot any of these red flags, cease contact immediately, as difficult as it may be. Block any attempts to resume contact via email, text or phone.
2. Never send money to someone you met online
Keep all personal and financial information private and protected until you are certain your online romantic interest can be trusted.
Don't lend money, credit card information or personal possessions to any stranger you meet on the internet. Do more research before moving forward with any financial decision. Be alert if the person romancing you creates a sense of urgency to send them money.
If your bank or credit accounts are used, contact the bank, credit provider and the Social Security Administration. Get a free copy of your credit report and look for accounts you don't recognize. Put a credit alert or freeze on your accounts.
3. Research profile details
Look for inconsistencies in their profile and the information they share. Do a quick internet search for your would-be lover's name and the town where they claim to live. For photos, you can use an image search to verify their profile photos aren't stolen from someone else's account.
Because people who conduct online impostor scams frequently spin the same lines or tell the same backstory, an internet search can be especially helpful. If an online love interest makes declarations of undying devotion and sends love poems, search for these lines online and see where they've been used before.
4. Ask for proof
A true, legitimate love interest will understand if you ask for proof that they're real and not misrepresenting themselves. One way you can protect yourself is to request a customized photo. Ask them to hold today's newspaper or a book you have both read.
If they can't or won't provide proof, or if your previous search results indicate something suspicious, it's time to voice your suspicions and lay the evidence on the table. When confronted with your evidence, they may admit they are a scammer but claim they've "fallen in love for real." While you may be tempted to believe them, this is just another heavily recycled tactic.
5. Keep both feet firmly planted in reality
Keep an eye out for signs that the relationship is moving in a direction that wouldn't play out if you met in real life. They may push the relationship to develop very quickly and use canned expressions and phrases. For example, they may call you pet names like "my love" or "my darling" early on. Or, they may say, "My child is already calling you 'mom' or 'dad.'"
Let your online romance develop naturally like it would in person. Push back on any attempts by the other person to move too quickly.
Keep yourself safe while searching for love. Using these five tips, you can quickly identify scammers and catfish and focus on building connections with real people.
To learn more and report online romance scams, visit USPIS.gov.