WASHINGTON — Swipe left on potential romance scams. This Valentine’s Day, the FBI Washington Field Office wants to educate the public about romance scams, so you can protect your heart—and your wallet—from scammers.
In romance scams (also known as confidence scams), a criminal creates fake profiles on dating sites or social media platforms to trick victims into believing that they are in a trusting relationship—whether familial, friendly, or romantic—with the perpetrator. Fraudsters leverage these relationships to manipulate and steal from victims—and break their hearts.
“Romance scammers are liars and thieves, but they’re also masters of their craft,” said Wayne A. Jacobs, special agent in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal and Cyber Division. “Victims may feel embarrassed, but it’s important to come forward and contact the FBI if you suspect your online admirer is a scammer, so we can help bring them to justice before they break someone else’s heart and bank account.”
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 23,000 complaints about confidence/romance scams in 2020—with reported losses of more than $600 million.
Romance scammers profit from exploiting their victims. Once they gain victims’ love and trust, they concoct stories of financial hardships to persuade victims to send them money.
Some criminals also ask victims to receive funds in the form of a cashier’s check, money order, or wire transfer. Then, they ask victims to redirect the funds to them or to an associate to whom they purportedly owe money.
In some cases of confidence fraud, the financial risk to victims is less obvious. Fraudsters ask victims to reship packages instead of redirecting funds. In these examples, victims risk losing money and incurring other expenses, such as bank fees and penalties. Some victims may even face prosecution.
While anyone can fall victim to these schemes, bad actors are known to target women over age 40 who are widowed, divorced, elderly, or disabled.
If you develop a relationship with someone you meet online, follow these tips, and beware of the red flags:
- Think twice before you share personal information online. Scammers can use details shared on dating sites and social media platforms to better target victims.
- If you try online dating, only use dating sites with well-known reputations. Search people’s photos and profiles online to see if anyone has used the names, images, or information elsewhere.
- Beware of online suitors who try to isolate you from your family or friends or who ask you to send inappropriate photos or financial information that they could later use to extort you.
- Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met in person.
- If you notice older family members using new communications apps or dating sites, explain the red flags and pitfalls, so they don’t fall victim to these criminals.
- If you suspect your online relationship is a scam, call 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) to file a report, or visit ic3.gov to submit a tip. You should also contact your financial institution if you’ve sent money.
To learn more about romance scams, join @FBIWFO for a Twitter chat on February 14 at 2 p.m. EST. Ask us questions by including the hashtag #AskFBIWFO in your tweets.