If you've never actually met the guy you hooked up with on an online dating site and were surprised to find that he has a British accent when you first talked on the phone, we might have some bad news — particularly if he asked you to send him some money so he could fly out to see you, then claimed that all flights out of Seattle have been canceled indefinitely. Since people have caught on to the fact that any Nigerian prince worth his salt can take care of his finances without help from random Americans, online crooks have turned to "romance scams." They're now spending months building relationships with potential victims, then convincing them to drain their bank accounts.
We've heard of thieves posing as members of the U.S. military, but Reuters reports that the problem is much more widespread, and it's on the rise. Western Union, which is often used for these shady money transfers, says complaints to the company shot up 30% in November. Pete Ziverts, a Western Union vice president, says the company has been flagging more suspicious transactions and trying to increase awareness. Many criminals are lurking on dating sites, but they could be on any site where people discuss a shared interest. "All scams have an emotional hook to them," says Ziverts. "Relationship scams are obviously so much more emotional. It's amazingly cruel."