On Your Side Alert: Online Dating Scams and MoneyGram

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - There is a warning for people looking for love online. After winning your heart, crooks focus on your money. February is a prime month for online dating scams. MoneyGram is fighting back after getting caught in the middle.

Susan Shasshaty was nearly a victim of an increasingly familiar dating scam, someone you meet online asks for money. She caught on to the hoax before losing anything. "I am not giving up. It was just very disturbing to see that somebody could do that much work to get you hooked," she tells us.

MoneyGram seems to be the business of choice for these crooks to collect. Pete Caddigan oversees the company's security investigations. He says MoneyGram is in combat mode. "It's tough, every day I come in, there is a new scam and a new set of scammers," Caddigan says. He says no state is immune, including Virginia. "In the state of Virginia, what's interesting is that 50 percent of the total romance scams reported, happen in the first two months of the year. The average loss was about 13-hundred dollars per victim," he explains.

It's not a total victory for the criminals, MoneyGram is actually able to prevent some of the scams and return millions of dollars, but in order to do it, they need help and say you have to report it. "We also need to hear from the victim to understand how the scam works and the social engineering. In other words, how they get into the victim's head and convince them to give up their hard earned money," Caddigan says.

Here are some helpful tips: Be on the lookout for grammatical errors, many of these scammers are overseas. Look of inconsistencies, like pictures not matching the person's age and of course the big one, any attempt to get money -- or anything else. "Don't fall prey to one of the tactics which is to send compromising photos of yourself, because if you get nervous about the fraudster now asking you for money and you challenge him or her on that, then they will have those compromising photos," Caddigan warns.

Once the crooks have your money, there's little chance you'll get it back. The sooner you report the fraud, the better chance you have of stopping it. MoneyGram looks for patterns and can deny payments if caught in time. The company says also, watch out for the "scam after the scam." That's when crooks realizes they've been caught and beg for forgiveness. It may sound like this: '"You know, I was in this for fraudulent purposes but I got to tell you, I have really truly fallen in love with you. I want to get out of this business, you have changed my heart," Caddigan explains.

He says there will not be any change and some how the conversation will return to money. You can report online dating scams to places like the Internet Crime Complaint Center, The Federal Trade Commission, and the National Consumers League. If you think you're a victim of a scam, contact you local police department.  If you think MoneyGram was used, you can contact the company at 1-800-666-3947.

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