Happy Valentine’s Day! Unless It’s Just a Joke or a Scam

The legends and the lowdown on the latest scams and hoaxes for Valentine’s Day: Internet Scambusters #426

Is somebody you know, or maybe don’t know, planning to profess their love for you this Valentine’s Day?

According to legend, we’ve been displaying our sentiments this way since at least the Middle Ages, and maybe before that.

This week, we look at the history, the hoaxes, the urban legends and the genuine scams that relate to this “Hallmark holiday,” when we collectively mail out one billion greetings cards.

Let’s check out today’s…

Happy Valentine’s Day! Unless It’s Just a Joke or a Scam

Some people think Valentine’s Day is a scam — because of the amount of money we spend on candy, cards and flowers.

There’s even a Facebook site called Valentine’s Day is a Scam.

Well, we’re happy to report that it doesn’t fit our definition of a scam since all the devotees seem to enjoy the experience and willingly dip into their wallets and pockets — even if they’re unsure what the final outcome might be!

However, there are plenty of scams and hoaxes surrounding the day, plus a handful of urban legends as we outlined in our first report on the subject, 3 Valentine’s Day Urban Legends.

A Bit of History

The origin of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of romance is lost in the mists of time.

Although there certainly was a St. Valentine — three of them in fact — the holiday event probably predates them.

Earliest records suggest the Romans honored their goddess of women and marriage, Juno, on February 14.

The day was followed by an important festival associated with young love, part of which involved young men slapping young women with strips of animal hide.

Ouch! Glad that’s not still around.

Then, around 500AD, Pope Glasius proclaimed St. Valentine’s Day to commemorate a priest of that name who supposedly was martyred 250 years earlier for refusing to obey a law forbidding young soldiers to marry.

But according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, true romantic associations were first linked to the day in the 14th century, when people believed birds selected their mates in mid-February.

This seems to be the point at which lovers began to exchange gifts of candy and flowers.

The First Valentine’s Day Card?

According to one urban legend, Valentine’s Day was actually invented by the greeting card company Hallmark 100 years ago!

Though we know that isn’t true, no one can say for sure who sent the first February 14 message of love.

For instance, going back to that historical link with the priest, legends say that, before his execution, Valentine was imprisoned and that he regularly sent sentimental messages to the daughter of his jail guard, who had visited him in his cell and whose sight he had restored in a miracle.

A variation on this urban legend says he wrote a note to a member of his family, just before being executed, and signed it “With love, from your Valentine.”

On the other hand, the Retail Confectioners International says a Frenchman — they’re always the romantics aren’t they? — imprisoned in the Tower of London sent a sentimental poem to his wife on that date in 1415.

It’s probably all fiction. But one thing we know for sure is that nowadays, according to the Greeting Card Association, we send more than a billion Valentine’s Day cards every year!

Valentine’s Day Urban Legends and Hoaxes

From the ghoulish to the humorous, Valentine’s Day tales abound. In addition to those covered in our earlier issue, here are a few more:

  • A young couple enjoying a moment of Valentine’s Day romance in the boyfriend’s car hear a radio warning about a newly-escaped murderer, with a hook in place of a hand.As a precaution, they lock the car doors, but when they arrive home, they found the killer’s hook hanging off the car door.There’s no evidence of this being true.
  • Then there’s the amusing suggestion that the green-colored variety of a certain well-known sugar shell coated candy supposedly makes eaters amorous. Sadly, no truth in that one either.

There’ve been plenty of hoaxes too. For instance:

  • Last Valentine’s Day, a giant screen at a New York Rangers hockey game announced a marriage proposal together with a close-up shot of the couple.Onlookers were astonished to see the woman jump up, shake her head and storm out in apparent fury, only to learn later that the couple were actors who’d been hired to add some joviality to the event.According to the New York Daily News, which reported the event, the trick has been played several times before at sports games.
  • Or how about bogus off-campus Valentine’s Day parties? This is a favorite college trick to see how many students can be tricked into attending a non-existent romantic celebration at a victim student’s house, or a dance at a local venue.

Valentine’s Day Scams

Of course, hoaxes are a key element of Valentine’s Day itself, in the form of cards supposedly sent from secret admirers that really are just spoofs intended to drive recipients mad with curiosity.

But on a more serious note, Valentine’s Day is a notorious lure for a number of scams. At this time of year, 3% of all spaham (misspelled intentionally) emails contains the word “Valentines.”

These tricks include:

  • Emails that link to a supposed online greeting card or Valentine’s Day website that attempt to download malware onto your PC.One website shows a number of heart icons and invites victims to click one for a message. That click triggers the download.If you get a Valentine’s Day email from someone you don’t know, don’t follow the link. If you do know the sender, email them back before you follow the link to check that they sent the card. Not very romantic, we know, but safe!
  • Instant messages inviting you to become involved in a romantic online chat.This includes the infamous “Flirt-bot,” an automated chat program that works with instant messaging sites, trying to get victims to provide details about themselves, then taking them to a website page that requests a credit card number supposedly as proof that the person is over 18.This is blatant phishing.
  • Another phishing trick comes as an email warning that the gift or flowers you ordered can’t be delivered because of a problem with your credit card.It then directs you to a spoof site where you have to re-enter your credit card details.Although this seems a bit hit or miss for the crooks, just by the law of averages, some of these emails end up in the inboxes of people who really did order gifts or flowers online and are fooled into thinking the message is real.

For more on how to avoid phishing attacks, check out this earlier Scambusters report, Phishing Scams: How You Can Protect Yourself.

Oh, and by the way, if you do order gifts or flowers online or by phone, buy from a reputable retailer or check that they’re genuine.

Some supposed florists, for example, turn out to be marketing companies who take a cut before passing on your order to a genuine flower seller. Others just take the money and run.

The truth is that even though Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day for showing affection, some people use it as an opportunity to show cunning.

Here at Scambusters, though we take our job seriously, we’re hopeless romantics at heart. So we’re off for a walk in the park — and wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day!

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.