February 12, 2024 Press Release from the Ohio Department of Commerce: Columbus, Ohio – With Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Securities warns Ohioans to be aware of a growing romance scam involving online dating websites and apps.
The scam, commonly referred to as “pig butchering,” involves scammers who use elaborate and convincing storylines to build trust with – or to “fatten up” – victims before enticing them to make investments in fraudulent cryptocurrency schemes. Scammers refer to victims as being “pigs” and develop relationships as a way to convince victims to put their money in cryptocurrency or other investments with the promise of high returns. Once that takes place, the scammer eventually vanishes along with the victim’s money. The FBI shared the experience of one victim in this video.
While dating apps and social media platforms may be good ways to meet new people, the Division of Securities urges all individuals to exercise extreme caution when sharing personal information or engaging in financial transactions with unknown people since they can easily turn fraudulent. These scams often involve building false relationships to lure victims into sending money, unwittingly participating in financial fraud, or even becoming targets of identity theft.
In 2022, 35 Ohioans reported online romance scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office with losses totaling nearly $1.8 million. According to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 70,000 people nationwide reported a romance scam in 2022 with reported losses totaling $1.3 billion.
“At a time when more individuals are forging emotional connections through digital means, online platforms have also become hunting grounds for fraudsters,” said Ohio Division of Securities Commissioner Andrea Seidt. “Individuals are often targeted by sophisticated criminal networks who exploit the desire for love and companionship to deceive individuals and steal their personal and financial information.”
To protect yourself from these risks, the Division of Securities advises Ohioans to remain vigilant and apprehensive of individuals seeking investment opportunities or prompting to send funds, especially those they have not met in person. Additionally, the Division encourages the public to conduct thorough research into the backgrounds of individuals they meet online and ensure that any financial investments are only made with registered and verified entities.
To stay safe, the Division urges all Ohioans to follow these safety measures on Valentine’s Day and every day.
· Be cautious of “love bombing,” which occurs when a new love interest showers you with affection and compliments. Be cautious of individuals who claim that destiny or fate brought you together or claim to love you after a short time.
· Be especially wary if you have just lost a loved one; many times, scammers study obituaries to find people who have recently suffered a loss.
Talk to friends and family members about online relationships, even if the other person asks you to keep the relationship secret. Be very skeptical of requests for money to be sent via wire transfer, cryptocurrency, peer-to-peer payment systems, money order, prepaid money cards or gift cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers. If you believe you are the victim of a scam, you should report the incident to the Division of Securities to help the Division understand how prevalent an issue may be in Ohio. In addition, the Division can work with partners to shut down a website or service that may be used to engage in fraud, and work to freeze the accounts of those committing the act.
“The Division of Securities is committed to safeguarding Ohioans from financial fraud and advises the public to report any instances of suspected fraudulent activity to protect themselves and others in the community,” Seidt said. “By reporting suspicious activities, we can work together to identify trends and take necessary actions to protect our citizens.”
For more information on recognizing and avoiding online dating scams, visit the Ohio Department of Commerce’s website, Division of Securities website, or contact the Division of Securities directly at 614-644-7381.
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