An #online #dating #scam is #spreading across the #country, #bilking #victims out of tens of thousands of #dollars

You’re looking for love, but end up in fear of arrest!

Even worse, you believe you’ve been tricked into breaking the law!

And the allegation is so terrible, it could ruin your life and your reputation.

It’s a troubling twist on an internet dating scam.

But many are so embarrassed and scared that they don’t report it to police.

The man you are about to meet doesn’t want his face shown.

Let’s call him Rusty.

He’s stepping forward to warn you and take away the power these scammers have.

Rusty turned to the dating website Plenty of Fish.

Encouraged by friends, he dipped his toe into the pond and met a 27-year-old woman, they texted, it was exciting.

Rusty said, “At some point, she started to send me, you know, some revealing pictures, and you know, she asked me for some in return.”

He played along, sending pictures he now regrets and then.

Rusty said, “She said something like, um, are you ready to do so-in-so to this 17-year-old body? And immediately I responded, 17?”

Then a surprise call from Tampa Police, suspicious, he googled the number and it showed it was the police.

Rusty said, “He read off three different felony counts and threatened me with up to, I think it was 25 years in prison.”

Then another call: the girl’s father wanted to talk.

Rusty said, “If he turns the phone over, we will put warrants out, and we will come and get you.”

The “Dad” sounded legit, until he implied money may make this nightmare go away.

Rusty frantically searched the web and realized he wasn’t alone. It was a scam.

Rusty said, “Sometimes they would ask for money right away. Sometimes they would wait a few days to make you worry.”

I found changing your number is easy. There are many apps for that, even to make you number show up as local police.

Tampa Police are stunned by the sophistication.

Steve Hegarty, with the Tampa Police said, “There are many layers to it, so even if you’re skeptical after the first layer, you might think, “oh, wow, this is really getting to be a big problem.”

This scheme is big business.

Jonathan Sellers, a social media expert said, “They have people fulfilling different roles. Someone is trying to find a new target. Another person is doing these follow-up calls to try to scare them.”

Take it from Rusty: even though the threats aren’t real, the fear is.

Rusty said, “To be innocent and have that feeling is horrible.”

The end game here is to get your money.

The crooks say it’s needed to pay for things like therapy for their daughter or just to hold the victim accountable.

And when you do give money, they tend to ask for more, holding the threat of arrest over your head.

So how can you trust a person you meet online?

There are many success stories of people who meet their spouses on online dating sites. But the big take away here, don’t send compromising photos. Without that leverage of the pictures, these scammers have little power.