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By Sheriff Carmine Marceno

Every day thousands of people looking for companionship join online dating sites and forget to take precautions against con artists who use clever tactics to form a bond, right before breaking their heart and their bank account. Sadly, scammers are targeting individuals over the age of 40 who may be emotionally vulnerable due to a recent divorce or death of a spouse, though certainly all age groups are at risk, including the elderly men and women.

If you or someone you know uses an online dating service, you need to heed this warning: The online contact you are communicating with could be a criminal sitting in a cybercafe with a well-rehearsed script that’s being used on thousands of other innocent victims. Known as the Romance Scam, these heartless imposters play the role of the perfect significant other by declaring their undying love through poetry, flowers and empty promises. As the fairy tale romance progresses, the scammer eventually asks for money to help overcome a financial situation they claim to be experiencing such as a family tragedy, injury to themselves while serving overseas in the military, or to cover travel expenses so the two of you can meet.

Victims may also encounter another twist to this heartbreaking scheme by being asked to receive fraudulent funds in the form of a cashier’s check, money order, or wire transfer, then sending those funds out of the country (Nigeria, Ghana, England, Jamaica, and Canada) to their significant other. Or instead of redirecting bad money, victims may be asked to pick up merchandise at a store or shipping outlet, then instructed to reship the merchandise to their romance scammer. Most likely the merchandise has been purchased online by the sweetheart swindler with a stolen or fraudulent credit card.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office encourages all Lehigh residents who are on the internet and utilize online dating services, social networking sites, chat rooms and instant messaging sites to use common sense over feelings. If you feel you are being scammed, please contact the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Line at (239) 258-3292.

Disclaimer: The newspaper does not necessarily agree with the opinions, ideas, beliefs or viewpoints expressed in the letters and op-ed pieces the newspaper publishes. The newspaper does not endorse the pieces, nor do they reflect the newspaper’s viewpoints or official policies. The newspaper publishes the pieces as a public service to further public commentary and debate as space allows.

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