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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — In the last three years, romance scams have cost Americans more than $300 million. The COVID-19 pandemic created a perfect hunting ground for scammers, with more people than usual cooped up at home and looking for love online.

Con artists create fake profiles and build personal connections with victims, then convince those victims to send them money, usually via wire transfer or other untraceable means such as a prepaid phone card or gift card.

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To avoid the scams, make a very simple rule: Never send money to a romantic connection online. Think about it: Have you ever heard a happy story about someone doing this? It doesn’t happen. No real person online looking for a love connection is going to suddenly need your help bailing his sister out of jail, fixing his car or paying for a lifesaving operation for his adorable Pomeranian.

Talk to your older relatives who might not be as internet-savvy, but who might be lonely and trying to find companionship online. Don’t be confrontational … ask them about anyone they’ve met and gently find out the details. If they seem to be getting scammed, then talk more directly about it.

Don’t let yourself or someone in your life become another statistic. Communicate, get to know people, but never send them money.

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