EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While the vast majority of people on dating apps are looking for love, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said scammers are targeting vulnerable users.

The BBB is urging hopeless romantics to use caution when putting photos, videos and personal information out there.

The scheme, according to BBB’s Paula Fleming, begins when the scammer convinces the person they’re talking with to send them explicit photos or videos of themselves.

Once the victim returns the favor, “that’s when the blackmailing begins,” she said.

“They’re blackmailing you so they don’t expose your pictures online to friends, to colleagues or to the entire world,” Fleming explained.

Fleming said the scammer typically demands money from the victim in exchange for keeping those photos and videos private.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that in 2020 alone, scammers siphoned $304 million out of dating app users, which is a roughly 50% increase from the year prior.

The scheme, according to Fleming, is targeting users from across the country, including in New England.

“We have been notified … by a few people that have unfortunately provided photos of themselves that they prefer not to be public,” Fleming said.

When it comes to meeting people online, whether it be on dating apps or other websites, the BBB suggests keeping your wits about you.

“Once you send a video or photo, there’s no way of getting it back or taking back the action,” Fleming warned.

Here are a few things the BBB suggests everyone keep in mind:

  • Never share your personal information with someone you just met. Don’t give your cell phone number, home address, email address or even your social media profile to a stranger. Wait until you know and trust a person, preferably when you’ve already met them in person.
  • Research your love interest. One telltale sign you’re dealing with a scammer is a stolen profile picture. Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture to make sure it isn’t being used under a different name or on multiple profiles.
  • Don’t pay money to scammers. Even if you pay them, you have no guarantee that scammers won’t use the photos or videos anyway. Plus, your money could be funding criminal activity.
  • Think before you send photos or videos. Once you send a photo or video, you can’t get it back. Keep in mind that even video calls can be recorded, and use good judgement to protect your reputation.

If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a dating app scheme, report it using BBB’s Scam Tracker.