PHOENIX — Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, but the FBI warns it can also lead to heartbreak and financial loss.
The agency cautions there are well-rehearsed criminals searching dating sites, apps, chat rooms and other social media networking sites. They’re trying to build relationships with people for the sole purpose of taking their money and personal information.
“If you do develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, use your due diligence. Slow things down,” said Jeremy Capello, supervisory special agent for the FBI Phoenix field office.
He said research photos and profiles using online search tools. Also avoid sharing financial information, loaning money and allowing your bank account to be used to transfer funds.
“If someone you have not met in person asks you to send them money, that’s the first red flag you’re involved in a romance scam,” Capello added.
Last year, the FBI reported 419 people in Arizona were victims of romance scams with a total loss of about $5.6 million. Those numbers are slightly lower than in 2018, when 429 victims of romance scams were reported and lost nearly $8 million in total.
Capello said older adults tend to be a big target for romance scams because “they often tend to have more money than the younger population from saving their whole lives.” Scammers also pray on young adults with good credit scores.
“Loans are taken out in their names, and the perpetrators often present them with investment opportunities and steal their money that way,” he said about younger adults.
Capello said never meet in a private place with someone you met online.
“Be sure you’re in a public area where plenty of people can see you,” he said. “Make sure someone knows you’re meeting this person and that you regularly check in.”
He also advised not to travel oversees to meet individuals.
“Often the perpetrators pretend to be in the military and stationed overseas, thus creating the inability for the victim to actually meet the perpetrators,” Capello said.
People who suspect they’re victims of a romance scam are advised to report it to their local FBI field office and to file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center.
“There’s a level of embarrassment when you do realize you’ve been defrauded or involved in a romance scam,” Capello said. “We advise people to always come forward and help us by reporting so that we can track these perpetrators down.”