There’s a song lyric about “looking for love in all the wrong places” and on this Valentine’s Day, many Iowans are doing exactly that.

Sonya Sellmeyer, a consumer advocate at the Iowa Insurance Division, says romance scams are on the rise, especially on this holiday. She says it’s important to take steps to protect yourself to make sure your dream of a new relationship doesn’t become a nightmare that’ll break your heart — and your bank account.

“We do want all Iowans to be aware of this problem,” Sellmeyer says. “We get a lot of complaints here at the Iowa Insurance Division from individuals who have been scammed in these romance scams by people usually that they meet online. We want to get the warning out to all Iowans so that no one else falls victim.”

While many millions of people use online dating apps, scammers use those same apps, pretending to be attracted to their targets. Sellmeyer says you have to be very wary and pay attention to warning signs. “Check them out. Know that if they’re refusing to meet you in person, they’re probably a scammer,” Sellmeyer says. “If they say that they live overseas, they could be a scammer. There’s always those excuses why they’re not meeting you in person. Those are big red flags.”

She says the rise of digital ecosystems is allowing romance scams to flourish in new ways, with scammers even using online games to try to develop fake romantic relationships and gain the victims’ trust. “Be careful what you’re putting on social media,” Sellmeyer says. “You’re putting information about yourself out there which opens the door to those scammers to walk right in when they’ve got that information about you.”

Scammers use the illusion of romance or intimacy to manipulate or steal from the victim and many of us know people who’ve been duped and dumped. “Anyone can be a victim. You can be smart, you can be a professional, it doesn’t matter,” Sellmeyer says. “These scammers, this is what they do for a living. We all like to think we’re good at our job, right? They’re good at their job. They know how to build the trust, and they know how to pull at those heartstrings and pull off that scam.”

If you or someone you know has been scammed, report it to the Iowa Insurance Division at 877-955-1212.

Radio Iowa