Looking for love in online spaces? Wallet alert!

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When you consider that dating is a $3 billion-a-year business and 20 percent of people who got married in 2017 met online, it’s no wonder scammers are circling these websites like sharks ready to pick the pocket of any potential love interest gullible enough to fall for their sob stories.

If you’re looking for love online, be sure to not only hang onto your heart but your wallet, too. Fraud cases are climbing as dating sites and apps are becoming more popular. The Federal Trade Commission received almost 17,000 reports of romance scams in 2017. The FBI reports that on average, victims lost about $18,000 to these schemes.

Cybercrooks meet victims on such sites as Match.com, Facebook, OkCupid or OurTime, to name a few. Scammers are attracted to these sites because it’s easy for them to take on any online persona because the communication is usually electronic, such as Facebook Messenger, as well as email and text messages.

These “schemancers” work on a target for weeks or months, building up trust that they love them and will start a new life soon. After they think they have that trust, they start asking for financial assistance. More often than you would think, victims comply because they think they’re helping someone who cares about them.

A telltale sign of a possible online scam is there is never an in-person meeting. The crooks pretend to be in the military or a traveling business person who is always on a trip. They’ll also resist calling you on the phone.

Clearly with the uptick in people meeting online, these sites do have a legitimate purpose. So here are some things you can do to protect your heart and your money:

• Never give money to anyone you haven’t met money.

• Don’t rely on the site to diligently monitor anyone who signs up for their service.

• Do your own homework. Google the name, address and phone number of any person you meet online.

• Do a criminal record search and do a Google image search to see if they’re using another person’s photo on their profile. The criminal check will cost you a few bucks, but when you consider thousands of dollars and your heart are on the line, it could be well worth it.

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HOME TITLE LOCK VALUE: This is a home title monitoring company that frequently advertises on our local TV and radio stations, so I’ve received several calls from readers asking me if title fraud is a legitimate concern.

First, what is title fraud? It is when the ownership or title of a property is fraudulently changed or documents forged to allow a fraudster to illegally sell or refinance a property.

Home Title Lock’s service is $14.99 per month. It monitors the title on your property and then alerts you if any court-filed changes are made to your property title. However, this isn’t a traditional insurance offering so there is likely no legal obligation for them to step in with money to make up for any losses you suffer if you have to file a claim.

I did call a couple of local title companies and it’s possible to purchase a type of title insurance coverage sometimes called enhanced homeowner insurance, among other names, that will cover a homeowner for post coverage of title fraud. But this type of coverage can be expensive and is not often purchased in Idaho as incidents of title fraud are rare.

The properties most likely at risk are those where the deed owner isn’t in full-time possession, like a rental property, vacation home, abandoned home or a home whose previous owner has died and the property is not occupied. Other at-risk owners could be those who have no mortgage on their home.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself against title fraud, like monitor your credit reports, check the status of your deed, and consider buying an owner’s title insurance policy.

I called the Kootenai County assessor’s and recorder’s offices and they said they don’t offer monitoring services; nor do they alert us to title changes, so that’s why I suggest checking the status of your deed, which can be done online.

Bottom line: Home Life Lock offers a title-monitoring service and that’s it. It’s meant to proactively help you shut down mortgage fraud before it hurts you, more than making you whole after the fact.

Make sure you know what you’re signing up for and if the price is worth any piece of mind it might provide, then it could be worth pursuing.

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ANOTHER SSA ALERT: Crooks seem to be calling our readers in record numbers about illegal activity tied to their Social Security number, saying that unless you call the number back immediately, your Social Security number will be terminated or suspended. A couple of upset readers said the callers threatened to take away their Medicare benefits.

An SSA representative said they do not have the authority to suspend SS numbers and cannot terminate them. If you get one of these calls, report it to: www.ssa.gov

The agency might flag a Social Security account, but that’s usually after the card has been reported lost or stolen.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at (208) 274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m a fulltime copywriter working with businesses on marketing, a columnist and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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