CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WDTV) — It might feel like love at first sight – or first swipe – but FBI agents warn it’s a labor of love for scammers.
FBI agents say 170 West Virginians have been hit by this scam in the last two years totaling nearly $3 million in financial losses. (Photo: WDTV)
Millions of people look to online dating apps or social networks to find love, but instead, more and more find fraud.
A Federal Trade Commission report found the median financial loss to romance scams is $2,600, about seven times higher than loss in other fraud.
Local FBI agents saw the number of romance scams soar in recent years.
“It’s one of the most profitable scams out there right now,” said John Large, Supervisory Senior Resident Agent with the FBI in Clarksburg.
In the last two years in West Virginia, the FBI fielded reports from roughly 170 victims, according to Large, who cited the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) database. The total financial hit was $2.7 million.
“You’re playing with someone’s emotions,” Large said. “You’re trying to convince someone that you want to be their friend or companion or you’re in love with them. Our emotions cause us to do things sometimes that we wouldn’t normally do.”
He said romance scam complaints filed with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2018 totaled close to half a billion dollars in financial losses for Americans.
FBI agents estimate only 10% of these cases are actually reported to their IC3 database, so the actual numbers could be much higher.
Scammers win the trust of their victims before creating excuses to need money. Often, they also find excuses not to meet in person. Experts say both should raise red flags for people on dating apps.
While the scammers themselves are all over the world, investigators generally find them originating in Ghana, Nigeria, England, and Canada.
While everyone is at risk of falling victim, scammers are head over heels for certain demographics.
“Those over the age of 40, women who are widowed, divorced, elderly or disabled,” Large said.
An FTC report says people ages 40-69 loose money to romance scams more than twice the rate of people in their 20s.
While love is in the air especially during this time of year, FBI agents say these scammers work around the clock.
“They’re out there all year long because people are susceptible all year long,” Large said. “People are looking for relationships online where it’s a great place to meet people. This time of year, because of Valentine’s Day, it’s very likely to see an uptick.”
FBI agents also advise against meeting anyone in person for the first time by yourself, never travel outside the country to do so, and don’t move money for scammers through your accounts if asked.
You can report a scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) here.
Below is the FBI’s full press release on avoiding becoming a victim to romance scams:
Valentine’s Day and the days leading up to it can be exciting, but it can also lead to heartbreak, embarrassment and financial loss. Well-rehearsed criminals search dating sites, apps, chat rooms and other social media networking sites attempting to build “relationships” for the sole purpose of getting your money or your personally identifiable information.
FBI Richmond suggests taking these points into consideration to avoid becoming a victim.
· Only use reputable, nationally-recognized dating websites; however be aware that scammers may be using them too.
· Research photos and profiles in other online search tools and ask questions.
· Never provide your financial information, loan money, nor allow your bank accounts to be used for transfers of funds.
· Do not allow attempts to isolate you from family and friends.
· Do not blindly believe the stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, family deaths, injuries, or other hardships geared at keeping your interest and concern.
· If you are planning to meet someone in person you have met online, meet in a public place and let someone know where you will be and what time you should return home.
· If you are traveling to a foreign country to meet someone check the State Department’s Travel Advisories beforehand (http://travel.state.gov/), provide your itinerary to family and friends, and do not travel alone if possible.
Victims may be hesitant to report being taken advantage of due to embarrassment, shame or humiliation. It’s important to remember – romance scams can happen to anyone at any time.
If you suspect your online relationship is a scam, cease all contact immediately. If you are a victim who has already sent money, immediately report the incident to your financial institution, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov), and contact law enforcement.