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Scam Alert

Don’t Fall for Online Romance Scams

Con artists use Valentine’s Day as way to steal your heart and your money

Search-word dangers. No doubt, your own Internet surfing for gifts can take you to dangerous waters. For each holiday — and their popular presents — cyber-scammers have found ways to tweak search engine results of gift-related search words. You get led to rogue rip-offs. Before clicking anywhere, use the bulleted "spot a scam" strategies — and use common sense. Don't trust advertisements touting unbelievable bargains or vendors whose names you don't recognize.

Problematic presents. Online and otherwise, even legitimate vendors may deliver less than expected. So save the love for your sweetie — and ask sellers tough questions. "While you think you're ordering from a local florist, you may actually be on the phone with someone hundreds or thousands of miles away," says Steve Bernas of the Better Business Bureau in Chicago. Last year, florist complaints were up 47 percent.

Interested in jewelry? Check out the Federal Trade Commission's consumer information on buying jewelry. It has tips on terms and how to spot fake appraisals.

Sweet on a canine? Before you bite on that street-corner offer, realize that Valentine's is peak season for dognapping and puppy-selling scams. These scams persist in ads in local newspapers and Craigslist, as well as emails and scammer websites.

Social media rogue romantics. Scammers are increasingly using social media websites to try to trick you into taking surveys that could set the stage for identity theft. Beware of applications that masquerade as romantic "wall" postings.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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