Sweetheart Scams

February 9, 2012

An old adage says, “Love is blind”—and that’s exactly what so-called sweetheart scammers are counting on. Financial fraud is one of the dangers of dating online.

Audio Transcript

Mollie Halpern: An old adage says, “Love is blind”—and that’s exactly what so-called sweetheart scammers are counting on. Financial fraud is one of the dangers of dating online.

Nickolas B. Savage: The problem is certainly large, and there are quite a number of individuals that are being victimized. 

Halpern: Hi, I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, and this is Inside the FBI. Those looking for love on singles sites can fall victim to suitors who are actually scammers. Coming up, learn how fraudsters are pulling your heartstrings only to get to your purse strings, how to spot a scam, and what action to take if you’re a victim. 

But first—who are these criminals using the computer to lure lovers? And who are their unlucky-in-love victims? Nickolas Savage is the assistant section chief of the Cyber Division...

Savage: The victims are residing here in the United States, but the individuals responsible for the criminal activity tend to be somewhere abroad.

Halpern: The average financial loss from these romance schemes is between $15,000 and $20,000. That number is nearly double what it was a decade ago. The victims are mostly women between 50 and 59 who believe they’re in a real relationship. Savage says the fraudsters work to gain their victims’ trust through online courting. 

Savage: Individuals who scam other people are masters at manipulating people who are vulnerable. And time is on their side. They have the ability to draw this out and to get to know somebody to determine what those vulnerabilities are.

Halpern: Once the victim’s vulnerabilities are exposed, the fraudster wants to take the relationship to another level and meet in person. 

Savage: But that’s usually accompanied later on with some problem that would prevent them from traveling, and it’s usually something involving money. We’ve seen situations where family members have been sick, or they themselves are having some financial problem, or, ‘If you send me money I can buy the tickets or obtain the necessary paperwork so I can come see you.’ It’s something that is believed to be happening in the fraudster’s life. Something that, some problem they are having that if they’re able to resolve these issues, they will then be able to meet the victim.

Halpern: The criminals continue to perpetrate the fraud until they break the victim’s bank—and heart. But there are ways to spot a scam before your romance fades into financial fraud.

Savage: Especially early on in the relationship, if it’s only your second or third conversation and they’re already asking you for money, then you really need to be careful, be wary, that it’s probably a scam.

Halpern: If your newfound online love sends you photographs of themselves—don’t believe it’s actually a picture of them.

Savage: If they look like something out of a magazine or they purport to be a supermodel, I think you just need to be a little cautious. You should apply common sense.

Halpern: Since the scammers are typically from outside of the United States, be wary if your love interest is overseas.  

Savage recommends doing your best to stay away from the scammers by using the more widely known websites.

Savage: I think the most important take-away is that people should stick to legitimate sites. They should stick to larger companies that have a reputation.

Halpern: The FBI investigates and collects data on these romance schemes though our Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3.

Savage: What IC3 affords us an opportunity to do is to collect this information of individuals who have been victimized from various parts of the country, bundle them together to look for that common thread or information that will get us back to a particular individual. Once we’ve done that, we can build a case and we can work with our foreign partners to affect an arrest and bring these individuals to justice.

Halpern: If you’ve been seduced by a scammer, let us know at www.ic3.gov.

Audio Download