Anti-fraud organisation SAFPS said scammers prey on the vulnerable during February, the traditional month of love. Picture: AP/Wilfredo Lee

Johannesburg - Anti-fraud organisation the South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) on Thursday said scammers prey on the vulnerable during February, the traditional month of love.

Manie Van Schalkwyk of SAFPS said Valentine’s Day can be a lonely time, with some people unwittingly setting themselves up as possible targets in their quest for romantic attention.   

While the internet houses a large number of dating sites that may well serve their purpose, there are many that abound with romance scams.

“In the United States this type of scamming has caught the attention of the FBI which has a dedicated unit to address what it estimates to have cost in losses to the victims, more than $230 million in 2016,” said Van Schalkwyk.

In South Africa there has been a significant growth in this type of scam due to the proliferation of social media sites, not necessarily those set up for dating. "Scammers typically seek out individuals who are older than 50, either single or in difficult relationships, who are looking for romance."

"Most victims are tech-savvy and targeted by criminal syndicates from anywhere in the world. It’s not hard for these people to target the emotionally vulnerable as people reveal much about themselves on social media sites," added Van Schalkwyk.

He said the scammer entices a prospective date with endearing messages that make the victim feel loved. This is the technique that inspires trust and leads the perpetrator to ask for a gift or money, or a favour of some kind. In many situations, the person will promise a meeting, but this never materialises.

"Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites, particularly photographs and videos as you may be setting yourself up as a target for a fraudster. Rather be safe than sorry," said Van Schalkwyk.

Van Schalkwyak urged people to report any such experience to SAFPS.

African News Agency/ANA