Romance scams are on the rise, according to the FBI.
ABC15 caught up with a woman in February 2022 whose images had been used to dupe someone.
Cynthia Sassi said, “This person was taking videos off of my Instagram account and sending them to him directly as if they were me.”
Valley woman warns of rise in ‘catfishing’
After the story aired, a voicemail revealed this was happening to more people.
Shari Lopatin sat down with reporter Allison Rodriguez after she reached out because someone had tried to set up a dating profile with her information.
It happened in the early days of the pandemic. That’s when she received an email from the dating site Zoosk, thanking her for signing up. She thought that was junk mail so she ignored it.
That’s until another one came into her inbox.
“It was an email with all these pictures of single men in my area,” she remembered.
This all surprised her because she’s been in a happy relationship for 15 years. She’d never even heard of the site and didn’t know what ‘swiping left’ or ‘swiping right’ meant until she watched it explained in a show.
“It was a fake profile. Someone pretending to be me,” she said.
An imposter used her Gmail to set up the account. Thankfully Zoosk took the fake profile down, but this kind of fraud is happening every day at an increasing frequency.
ABC15 stopped by the FBI Phoenix office to talk to Special Agent Martin Hellmer whose job is to help track the scammers down.
“Losses and number of victims to romance scams have grown through the years,” he mentioned.
He explained how these scams really work.
“They establish relationships very quickly with these people,” he said.
He then explained that within 24 hours, the scammers move the conversations from the dating site to messaging apps or phone calls.
The perpetrators scour through social media to learn more about the victims and make the story more believable. And the scammer always claims to be wealthy but can’t access their money for one reason or another. Agent Hellmer says the “money” is held up, “until they pay some sort of a tax or insurance or some sort of a foreign fee that they need help paying.”
The FBI Internet Crime Report from 2021 showed there were 24,299 victim reports of romance scams.
This resulted in $956 million in losses.
Reports of these types of scams have gone up every year since 2019.
Agent Hellmer says scammers most often target the elderly, especially widows and widowers. That’s because he said the scammers know they have money, and often, the crimes will go unreported because the victims may feel embarrassed about falling for such schemes. But Agent Hellmer says they shouldn’t feel bad because these are sophisticated crime rings that do this day in and day out. He believes there are many more victims than the reports the FBI receives but stresses the reports are imperative to busting the criminals.
We reached out to dating sites Zoosk, Tinder, eHarmony, OkCupid, and more. All either didn’t respond back to requests for interviews or declined but did mention there are sections in the apps with information on how to spot fraudsters.
Lopatin says she still thinks about who faked her profile and why. She was never able to get that answer but warns to stay vigilant with personal information.
“You could be married with kids and not be on a dating app and someone can still pretend to be you,” she cautioned.
Arizona does rank 11th out of 57 places for most victims in the U.S. and its territories.
Agent Hellmer says victims can and should report crimes to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
To see the full FBI Internet Crime Report for 2021, click here.