Sweetheart #scams on the #rise

Online romance scams are on the rise but Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to report them.

Con artists often meet their victims on social media or dating websites. They create phony profiles and communicate with their victims via text or phone, sometimes for months or years. They may even send forged photos or documents in order to “prove” their identity, but eventually they start asking for money, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine warned.

“Sometimes online dating works out very well, but unfortunately, there are some con artists who pretend to be someone they’re not but they string people along,” DeWine said.

His office keeps a list of the most common excuses for needing money from a new “love”:

• A doctor working overseas who is robbed and needs money for a new passport.

• An engineer building a bridge in India who is robbed and needs money to come home.

• A U.S. military member stationed overseas who needs money to buy a plane ticket.

• A jeweler traveling in Africa detained after trying to board a plane with a diamond.

The tipoff is in the requested method of payment, usually by untraceable wire transfers, money orders or prepaid gift cards. Once money is sent in those ways, it is nearly impossible to recover. In 2017, about 40 Ohioans reported losing money to so-called sweetheart scams. The average reported loss was close to $40,000.

To avoid losing heart and money, DeWine said, you should:

• Not rely solely on what the person tells you. Search the person’s name and other details the person provides. Conduct an image search of a person’s profile picture. See if it has been used somewhere else. Don’t assume a person is trustworthy just because you met on a legitimate dating website.

• Be cautious when someone claims to be in love before you have met in person. As part of the scam, some con artists send gifts or make claims about destiny or fate in order to make their feelings seem legitimate. To help protect yourself, talk to friends and family about any online relationships, even if the other person asks you to keep the relationship a secret.

• Don’t send money to someone you’ve only met online, even if you have developed a relationship with the individual. Be especially skeptical of requests for money sent via wire transfer, money order, prepaid money cards, cash or gift cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers.