FBI warns against falling victim to romance scams

West Virginia

FILE – This Thursday, June 14, 2018, file photo, shows the FBI seal at a news conference at FBI headquarters in Washington. In an alert Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, the FBI and other federal agencies warned that cybercriminals are unleashing a wave of data-scrambling extortion attempts against the U.S. healthcare system that could lock up their information systems just as nationwide cases of COVID-19 are spiking. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

PITTSBURGH – Valentine’s Day and the days leading up to it can be exciting, but it can also
lead to heartbreak, embarrassment and financial loss.

Criminals search dating sites, apps, chat rooms and other social media networking sites attempting to build “relationships” for the sole purpose of getting money or personally identifiable information, the FBI explained in a press release.

Romance scammers often create fake profiles on dating sites and apps or contact their targets through popular social media sites. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, romance scams, also called confidence fraud, affected more than 1,600 people in West Virginia in 2020, up from 1,200 people in 2019. This resulted in losses totaling $4.8 million in 2020.

To avoid becoming a victim, FBI Pittsburgh recommends the following:

  • 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 financial information, loan money nor allow bank accounts to be used for transfers of funds.
  • Do not allow attempts to be isolated from family and friends.
  • Do not blindly believe the stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, family deaths, injuries or other hardships geared at keeping interest and concern.
  • If planning to meet someone in person after meeting online, meet in a public place and let someone know where the meeting will be and the estimated return time.
  • If traveling to a foreign country to meet someone, check the State Department’s Travel Advisories beforehand, provide an 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, according to the FBI. It stresses that romance scams can happen to anyone at any time.

Anyone suspecting that an online relationship is a scam should cease all contact immediately. A victim who has already sent money should immediately report the incident to financial institutions, file a complaint with the Internet Crimes Complaint Center and contact law enforcement.

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