Consumer Alert: Beware of online love scam

You know the old adage, "love is blind." Well, that's exactly what so-called sweetheart scammers are counting on. First they leave their sweetheart in the lurch and then they rip off an online seller for thousands of dollars.

"She fell in love on the Internet; it's what we call a Sweetheart Scam," explains Ricky Vida, a U.S. Postal Inspector. "She believed she was going to marry a US Soldier stationed over in Nigeria."

The victim was told her sweetheart was in the middle of divorcing his current wife. He asked if she would pawn some jewelry she would receive in the mail and then wire the money to him in Africa.

"She showed us the text messages she was receiving from her love interest overseas-- her Sweetheart," says Vida.

But instead of love, the victim found herself caught up in a scam.

"This individual is what we call a "money mule" --a middleman," says Vida.

The jewelry sent to her was essentially stolen in an online auction scam. Here's how it works: Someone trying to sell something online receives an email from an interested buyer.

"The email would be a spoof email it would appear like it is from Paypal," Vida explains. 'There would be a request for a tracking number then once I get the tracking number you'll get your money from Paypal. "

The seller goes to the post office and sends the merchandise to get the tracking number, then quickly realizes he's been duped.

"The seller wouldn't receive payment or anything and would be out the jewelry or other things they were selling online."

The goods are sent to a middle man, like the victim in the sweetheart scam, who has no ide athe merchandise is part of a ripoff scheme.

Vida warns online sellers, "the best thing you could do is closely read the email. If there are misspellings in there if the language doesn't seem right…be aware it could be a spoof email."

If you have any doubts, postal inspectors say do not reply to the email.

"The most important thing you can do, just contact the business and ask them about it."

Federal officials say the average financial loss from these romance schemes is between$15,000 to $20,000, nearly double what it was a decade ago. As for how to avoid being the sweetheart caught in the middle, authorities say never trust someone you've met online until you meet them face to face, and confirm they are.

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