NASHVILLE – With Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14, 2019) quickly approaching, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TDCI) Division of Consumer Affairs reminds Tennesseans to be wary of ‘sweetheart’ scammers who claim to love you but, in reality, are only after your money.
“Valentine’s Day is a time to show your loved ones how much you care, but it also provides the perfect opportunity for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers by utilizing emotion-provoking scam tactics,” said TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “We urge consumers to be wary of deals that sound too good to be true and individuals who ask for money through online dating sites.”
With Tennessee ranked 10th in the nation for fraud , the Division of Consumer Affairs offers the following to help Tennesseans avoid being a scammer’s sweetheart:
ONLINE DATING SCAMS
Relationship scams, or “sweetheart” scams, are one of the oldest tricks in many scammers’ playbooks. Unfortunately, the rise of online dating websites, mobile apps, and social networking platforms have given scammers a new way to trick people into believing their schemes. While legitimate relationships are often found online, scammers also use these websites and platforms to prey on unsuspecting victims. Scammers will create fake profiles to attract individuals and then use emotional tactics to solicit money.
- You meet someone on a dating site. The person you’re communicating with immediately wants to leave the dating site and start communicating over personal email or IM.
- The individual claims love quickly and things turn serious.
- While the person claims to be from the U.S., he or she also claims to be traveling or working overseas.
- Scammers play on emotions by making up elaborate stories about needing money for travel mishaps, medical emergencies, missing visas (or other documents) or a temporary financial setback.
- The scammers will ask for your financial help by wiring them money. The first transfer is small, but it’s followed by requests for more.
Remember: NEVER send money to someone who is using the above tactics or to someone you’ve never met in person.
GIFT CARD SCAMS
Gift cards scams are an increasingly common way for scammers to profit off consumers with good intentions. Last year, Tennesseans lost nearly $1 million to gift card scammers. Scammers will pose as an online love interest or a distant family member faced with a financial bind. Instead of a wire transfer or cash, the scammers will persuade the consumer to purchase gift cards (often iTunes or Google Play) and provide them with the redeemable code on the back of the card. (This method is optimal for scammers because the scam is hard to trace.) Consumers who receive a request for payment using iTunes gift cards that they believe may be a scam should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) at ftc.gov/complaint.
- Never read or text someone the PIN number on the back of a gift card. The number is as good as cash in the scammers’ pocket.
- Reputable businesses, like technology support companies and shop-at-home services, don’t ask for gift cards as payment. If you’re being asked by a caller to pay for a product or service with a gift card, proceed with caution because it is likely a scam.
- If you’re buying gift cards as gifts, make sure to buy them from a reputable and known source.
Considering purchasing gift certificates or discounted services for Valentine’s Day? Remember:
- Carefully review the expiration date of the gift card. In general, the expiration date of a gift card you purchase should be at least five years after the date it was issued to you under the rules of the FTC ; also, the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act provides that a gift certificate must have an expiration date that is at least two years after the gift certificate is issued.
- You should never be charged a fee for the gift certificate being issued.
- Within two years of purchasing the gift certificate, you should not be charged service fees (including dormancy fees, latency fees, or administrative fees) that reduce the total value of the gift certificate.
- These restrictions may not apply to prepaid cards for making telephone calls or at multiple, unaffiliated merchants or at ATMS. They also may not apply to certain cards given as customer loyalty awards, given away or sold below face value to charitable organizations for fundraising, sold by a charitable organization for fundraising purposes, given to an employer by an employee for the employing business, or issued by an employer in recognition of services performed by an employee.
- When purchasing a gift, always be aware of return policies and ask for a gift receipt.
For more information on being a savvy consumer, visit tn.gov/consumer. If you have been the victim of a scam, you can report the crime to the FTC or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
About the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance: TDCI protects the interests of consumers while providing fair, efficient oversight and a level field of competition for a broad array of industries and professionals doing business in Tennessee. Our divisions include the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Insurance, Securities, Consumer Affairs, Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, Regulatory Boards, Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, Tennessee Corrections Institute, and TennCare Oversight.
To check a license of a professional regulated by the Department, go to http://verify.tn.gov/.