I don’t open electronic greeting cards anymore, no matter who they’re from. Secret admirers make me suspicious, as do emails offering discounted flowers or candy.
How did I become a Valentine’s Day scrooge? Easy. I started covering scams, which opened my eyes to a world of criminals who prey on us at our weakest moments.
Valentine’s Day is one such time, unfortunately.
We hope for a romantic message from a lover, and the bad guys know it. We want to believe, and they have us where they want us.
Here’s how to avoid these common Valentine’s Day swindles.
The bogus greeting card.
Beware of emails containing links to bogus cards. Scammers hide lines of malicious code in greeting cards, sometimes unbeknownst even to the people sending the messages.
How can you tell if it’s harmful? Look for files like “e-card.zip” or “postcard.zip” or anything ending in “.exe” — those are executable files that must be installed on your PC.
My advice? Delete the card and send the person a note that you can’t open a greeting card with a .zip file in it.
Scammy Facebook offers.
Beware of “themes” that can be downloaded from Facebook around this time of year.
The last big Valentine’s Day scam was a theme, which downloaded a malicious browser plug-in that served ads whenever you logged in to your Facebook profile, automatically liked random Facebook pages and posted spam on your friends’ walls.
This year, the criminals are bound to get smarter. Do yourself a favor: install nothing, even if it looks harmless.
The mail-order bride/girlfriend scam.
One of the most enduring scams — enduring, because it works — is the mail-order bride swindle. It targets middle-aged men in the United States who want to marry foreign women.
The romance progresses by email, and at some point the women ask them for money for an airline ticket and visa. After the cash is wired, the women disappear, along with the money.
I’ve personally tried to help several victims of this scam, but by the time they realize they’ve been taken, the scammer has vanished.
All the more reason to keep trying to look for love at home and never, ever wire money.
Bogus Valentine’s discounts.
These are prevalent online and offline, as sophisticated merchants and criminals try to capitalize on Valentine’s Day.
They know that reason often goes out the window when it comes to buying a romantic gift, or at least common sense does.
Remember, just because it says it’s a sale doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good deal. Do your comparison shopping as you would for any other purchase.
Love doesn’t have to be blind.
The online flower scam.
This scheme flourishes at this time of year, mostly targeting men who wait until the last minute to get flowers for their sweetie. (I know because I have been one of them, and, yes, guilty as charged on the “waiting for the last minute” thing).
At best, the scammers will take your money and not deliver the flowers you ordered. Don’t forget, you can dispute the charges on your card if they fail to deliver.
At worst, they’ll ask you to log in again to “verify” the transaction and charge you twice and then not deliver the flowers.
Deal only with a reputable florist and for heaven’s sake, don’t wait until the last minute. Guys, I’m looking at you!
You don’t have to be a victim this Valentine’s Day. Just avoid scammy e-greeting cards, “sales” and offers of a questionable nature and random emails from exotic-looking women that seem too good to be true.
How hard can that be?
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.