Consumer First Alert: Signs that you're falling for a romance scam

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Valentine's Day is almost here and love is in the air. Consumer advocates believe it is a good time to warn about romance and dating scams.

Each day, victims are being taken to the cleaners by sweet-talking scammers.

The scammers are looking for people in a vulnerable condition.

"People who are in a divorce, transition in life, lost a loved one, widowed. Children who've moved out, lost a job and are lonely, frankly are more susceptible to someone online telling them that they love them, that they care about them and that they want to spend time with them," says Lara Sutherlin, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Impostors use fake profiles to lure in victims. They'll always have a story about why they cannot meet in person.

Soon, they'll be asking for money.

"They ask you for money before you've even met them," says Sutherlin. "Then you're probably being scammed."

The Federal Trade Commission says romance scam victims reported losing $143 million in 2018.

The average loss to romance scams is $2,600--that's about seven times higher than other forms of fraud.

"It only takes one person to actually get caught and then you're talking a lot of money. Some of these people spend tens of thousands of dollars before they realize," says Sutherlin.

How to avoid falling victim to romance scams:

--Never send money or gifts. Do not wire or share gift cards.

--Ask a lot of questions and look for inconsistent answers.

--Try a reverse search of profile pictures.

--Red flag: They move off a dating site into direct messaging.

--Talk about this person you've met online with someone you trust. Pay attention if friends or family are concerned.

--Read the online dating service's contract.

The Better Business Bureau received more than one-thousand complaints in 2019. Most of them were issues with billing and automatic renewals.

CLICK HERE to learn more about spotting a romance scam.