Valentine's Day Scam

Let’s face it, even without the threat of fraud and scams, Valentine’s Day can be treacherous. Choose the wrong gift or a bouquet of least-favorite flowers, write the wrong note, and whatever was slightly wrong in your love life can go completely haywire.

St. Valentine wore an amethyst ring while he cut hearts (from paper) to send to good soldiers and persecuted Christians. Today, amethyst is the birthstone for the month of February, and billions ($18.2 billion in 2017) are spent sending heart-festooned greetings and gifts to friends, lovers—even pets. Scam artists look at that kind of commerce, and see potential profit.

While many of the traditional gifts associated with Valentine’s Day may seem scam-proof, it’s important to stay wary and aware. And make no mistake, your pets aren’t off limits. Scammers target anything that might motivate you to move a muscle and, with that, your money in their direction.

Flowers of Evil

Florists advertise online, and so do criminals looking to make a buck because you’re doing three things while ordering flowers from their fake site. Before ordering flowers online, call the florist, and check for reviews online. And this is important: keep looking for a florist till you find one that answers your phone call and also has positive reviews on more than one reputable site.

Another way criminals work the flower angle is by gaming the probability that you’ve sent flowers to someone. You receive an email that your flowers were undeliverable, and will be asked to re-enter the delivery address as well as your credit card information to trigger a second attempt at delivery. That information will be promptly used to rack up charges on your account.

The same principle applies to a wide range of other gifts—whether products or services—that can be purchased online from smaller companies. If you can’t get a person on the phone, don’t go through with a transaction.

Similarly, there are plenty of scams that target the supposed recipient of a gift. An email will arrive that informs you of a package that was undeliverable. When you click the link in the email, it downloads malware onto your computer.

The way to avoid this pitfall is simple: never click a link in an email. Get in touch with the retailer directly or visit their site.

Fake E-Cards

This is a tough one, because who doesn’t like to receive a Valentine’s Day card? The problem with e-cards is that they are easy to spoof. To further confuse recipients, scammers may add a layer of detail by referring them to a site that looks exactly like Hallmark, Paperless Post or a host of other legitimate e-card companies.

First, look at the URL of the link if it is visible in the email and make sure it is correct (i.e., look for a misspelling in the form of a missing or added character—and remember a lowercase “L” looks a lot like the numeral “1”). If you can’t see the URL because the email offers only a hyperlink, and you click on the link, you may have already downloaded malware. That said, you may still be another step away from doing that—re-directed to a spoof site. Check the URL! Better yet, don’t click the link.

The easier work around if it comes from a friend, is to ask whether he or she sent an e-card. If you receive a notice that simply says, “Someone has sent you message,” don’t click. It’s a scam.

Unlucky in Love

Singles face another challenge on Valentine’s Day. Catfishing (often spelled “catphishing”) is an old exploit that will work as long as people are lonely. Here, a scammer sets up an appealing profile on a dating app or site, and seduces a victim with the sole purpose of getting them to hand over money.

What better time for the catfisher to find a Miss or Mister Lonely hearts than the “most romantic” day of the year? While it’s certainly true that scammers are always looking for vulnerable marks on dating sites and apps, their efforts are ramped up on Valentine’s Day.

If you find someone goes from zero to sixty with you online, take a pause and consider how that could be possible. Chances are good, that the person you’re communicating with is either unstable, looking to scam you, or quite possibly both. Regardless, these speed demons of love aren’t generally people you want to get to know. Ditto if a nice conversation veers quickly to a sob story that only you can make better, or a request for compromising images. If you’re asked for money, end the conversation.

While every day is open season to the scammer, Valentine’s Day provides bad guys with a topic and a pretense for getting in touch with you, so be extra careful.

Whether you find out flowers are heading your way that could only be coming from a secret admirer, or you just met your soul mate online, a good rule is that things that seem too good to be true, they probably are.

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