The holiday for sweethearts has prompted a warning from law enforcement about a growing wave of online romance scams in Arizona.
The FBI’s Phoenix branch, which also covers Tucson, is marking Valentine’s Day with an advisory about the scheme — also known as catfishing — in which swindlers with fake social media profiles try to lure victims into love relationships in hopes of stealing their money and personal information.
About 650 Arizona residents fell victim last year to what the FBI classifies as “romance/confidence scams,” agency data shows.
The total includes both romance scams and other fraud schemes that toy with people’s affections, such as one in which grandparents receive fictitious demands for money to bail a grandchild out of jail.
People are also reading…
Together, the Arizona victims lost a total of almost $21 million last year, a 75% increase over 2020 when total losses were around $12 million, the data shows.
The FBI could not provide statistics specific to Tucson and Pima County, but agency spokeswoman Brooke Brennan said “there are victims all across the state.”
According to the U.S. Army, many perpetrators pose as American troops.
“Army Criminal Investigation Command receives hundreds of reports a month from individuals who have fallen victim to a scam perpetrated by a person impersonating a U.S. soldier online,” the service’s website says.
Older people also are targets, the American Association of Retired Persons says.
“The older the target, the heavier the financial toll,” the group’s website says. It cites federal data showing a median financial loss of $9,475 for victims 70 and older, compared to a $2,500 median loss for all age groups.
The FBI has some tips for avoiding trouble. Among them:
Research photos and profiles by using online searches to see if the same words and images have been used elsewhere.
Never provide financial information or loan money to anyone you don’t know personally. Do not allow your bank accounts to be used for transfers of funds.
Be leery of anyone who seems too perfect or moves too fast, for example by quickly asking to leave a social media site and meet up “offline.”
Be suspicious when someone promises to meet up in person but repeatedly makes excuses for why they can’t.
The agency says romance scam cases may be underreported because victims often feel sheepish when the lies eventually comes to light, an FBI news release said.
“Victims may be hesitant to report being taken advantage of due to embarrassment, shame or humiliation,” it said, but “romance scams can happen to anyone.”
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @AZStarConsumer