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.
Scammers use poetry, flowers, and other gifts to reel in victims, all while declaring their “undying love”. These criminals often use stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, deaths in the family, injuries to themselves, other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes. Scammers then often ask victims to send money to help them overcome a financial situation they claim to be experiencing. These are all lies intended to take money from unsuspecting victims.
The criminals spend hours honing their skills, relying on well-rehearsed scripts that have been used repeatedly and successfully, and sometimes keep journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them. In some cases, victims may be recruited, unknowingly, to transfer money illegally on behalf of others.
“Most often these romance scammers leave victims financially and emotionally devastated. Many victims may not have the ability to recover from the financial loss,” said Luis M. Quesada, special agent in charge of the FBI El Paso Division. “While we recognize that it may be embarrassing for victims to report this type of fraud, it’s important to do so, so that the FBI and our law enforcement partners can do everything in our power to ensure these online imposters are held accountable.”
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), romance scams have resulted in one of the highest amounts of financial losses when compared to other online crimes. Nationwide in 2020, almost 23,768 complaints categorized as romance scams were reported to the IC3 (4,295 more than the previous year), and the losses associated with those complaints total approximately $605 million. The State of Texas reported 1,602 complaints totally over $42 million. Here in the El Paso Division, which includes El Paso, Midland/Odessa and Alpine, 82 complaints were filed with financial losses totaling approximately $2.3 million.
- 62 victims in El Paso reported financial losses totaling $1,688,398.
- 13 victims in Midland reported financial losses totaling $217,489.
- 7 victims in Alpine reported losing $349,855.
The reported losses are most likely much higher as many victims are hesitant to report being taken advantage of due to embarrassment, shame or humiliation.
Be careful what you post online because scammers can use that information against you, and always assume that con artists are trolling even the most reputable dating and social media sites.
If you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, consider the following:
- Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect, or quickly asks you to communicate “offline”.
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family.
- Beware if the individual claims to be working and living far away, whether it’s on the other side of the country or overseas.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always cancels because of some emergency.
- Beware if you’re asked to send inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
- Never help anyone move money through your own account or someone else’s. You could become an unwitting money mule for the perpetrator helping to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.
If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately and if you have already sent money, it is extremely important to report any transfer of funds to your financial institution and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.