FBI Cleveland Warns of Romance Scams
Perpetrators Are Predominately Men Targeting Women Over 40 Who Are Divorced, Widowed, Elderly, or Disabled
[Cleveland, OH] As Valentine's Day approaches, FBI Cleveland reminds the public to remain aware when engaging in online relationships and warns about the hidden dangers when striking up a relationship with someone they have not met in real life.
Romance scams, also known as confidence scams, continue to rise, and typically occur when a criminal creates a fake profile on a dating site or social media platform. The scammer tricks victims into believing they’re in a loving and trusting relationship with that online persona. Fraudsters then leverage that relationship and concoct stories of financial hardships, persuading victims to send money, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or other items of value. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) most recent figures from 2022 reflect 19,000 complaints about confidence and romance scams with reported losses of at least $739 million.
Most commonly, the perpetrators are men targeting women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, elderly, or disabled. The scam usually starts with an “innocent” contact online and builds from there. Romance scammers often use well-rehearsed scripts which have been previously used successfully.
These criminals actively search dating websites, apps, chat rooms, and social networking sites in their efforts to build a relationship with the goal of accessing financial assets or personally identifiable information. Romance scammers often spend hours honing their skills and sometimes maintain detailed journals, describing their targeted victims, to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them.
FBI Cleveland encourages people to do their due diligence about the person they are communicating with, just as you would when meeting in person; ask a lot of questions and don’t take everything at face value. Even if the person sends casual ‘at-home’ images that appear normal, oftentimes, scammers will steal the identity of another person and use those photos as bait.
To avoid meeting in person, romance scammers often claim to live or work in other parts of the country or world. Eventually, when they feel they have gained the trust of their victims, these criminals will request money, oftentimes for a medical emergency, an unexpected legal fee, or some other false purpose. The crime is borderless and anyone of any age can be targeted. The scammers’ goal is to financially exploit the victim. If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using your account to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.
If you find yourself beginning to develop a relationship with someone you meet online, remember these tips to help protect yourself:
- Be careful with sharing too much personal information online across all social media sites. Scammers can and often use those details to target you and build commonalities.
- If you’re on dating sites, only use platforms with a well-known reputation, and research photos and profiles online to see if anyone has used that name or image elsewhere. It may take a little time on your part but will be well worth the effort in the long run.
- Beware of online suitors who try to isolate you from your family or friends, or those who ask you to send inappropriate photos or financial information that could be later used to extort you.
- Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met in person. Scammers often use emotional pleas and stories of despair to trick you into believing their story of need. No amount is too large or small to report to the FBI whether it’s a request to wire money, send gift cards, or transfer other items of value. You are the victim and reporting is the only way the FBI can connect the dots and stop these criminals from targeting other people or further exploiting you and your network.
If you suspect your online relationship is a scam, whether you are involved or someone you know may be falling victim to the scam, call 1-800-CALL-FBI to file a report, or visit ic3.gov to submit a tip. You should also contact your financial institution if you’ve already sent money.
Find more resources about romance scams at FBI.gov/romancescams
Romance Scams — FBI – will give an overall view of what constitutes a Romance Scam
2022_IC3Report.pdf -the IC3 report shows all types of scams nationwide, broken down, and from there, you can see how Romance Scams add up total number of victims and dollar losses.
2022 IC3 Ohio Annual Report – this report is for Ohio and shows the breakdown of the type of fraud/scam. You’ll see Romance Scams and the losses and the number of people affected.
A few recent prosecutions:
District of Utah | Final Defendant in Online Romance Scam Sentenced to 72 Months’ Imprisonment, Ordered to Pay $6.4M in Restitution Jointly | United States Department of Justice
Northern District of Texas | Romance Scammer Convicted at Trial of Money Laundering, Wire Fraud Conspiracies | United States Department of Justice
Eastern District of Missouri | Romance Scammer who Helped Steal Nearly $1.2 Million from Missouri Woman Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison | United States Department of Justice
District of Massachusetts | Former New Bedford Man Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud and Money Laundering Arising From "Romance Scam" | United States Department of Justice
Southern District of Ohio | 7 defendants sentenced for conspiring to launder more than $11.8 million of online romance scam proceeds | United States Department of Justice
Oftentimes, while the subject was prosecuted in another state as noted in the articles above, their reach included victims across the country.