February 13, 2022

FBI El Paso Office Warns of Romance Scams Ahead of Valentine’s Day

EL PASO, TX— Swipe left on potential romance scams. This Valentine’s Day, the FBI El Paso Field Office wants to educate the public about romance scams, so you can protect your heart—and your wallet—from scammers.

In romance scams (also known as confidence scams), a criminal creates fake profiles on dating sites or social media platforms to trick victims into believing they are in a trusting relationship—whether familial, friendly, or romantic—with the perpetrator. Fraudsters leverage these relationships to manipulate and steal from victims—and break their hearts.

“Romance scammers are liars and thieves, but they’re also master manipulators,” said Jeffrey R. Downey, special agent in charge of the FBI El Paso Field Office. “Victims may feel embarrassed, but it’s important to come forward and contact the FBI if you suspect your online admirer is a scammer, so we can help bring them to justice before they break someone else’s heart and bank account.”

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. In 2021, victim losses associated with those online romance scams totaled approximately 5.94 billion. The State of Texas reported 1,753 complaints totaling over $745 million. Here in the FBI El Paso Field Office, which includes El Paso, Midland/Odessa, and Alpine, 79 complaints were filed with financial losses totaling approximately $1.4 million.

New Trend in Romance Scams: The FBI has seen a rising trend in which romance scammers are persuading individuals to send money to invest or trade cryptocurrency. After gaining the confidence and trust of the victim, the scammer then directs the victim to a fraudulent website or application for an investment opportunity. After the victim has invested an initial amount on the platform and sees an alleged profit, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money. Eventually, the scammer instructs the victim to invest a more considerable amount. When the victim is ready to withdraw funds again, the scammers create reasons why this cannot happen. The victim is informed additional taxes or fees need to be paid, or the minimum account balance has not been met to allow a withdrawal. Sometimes, a “customer service group” gets involved, which is also part of the scam. Ultimately, victims cannot withdraw any money, and the scammers most often stop communicating with the victim after they cease to send additional funds.

Tips to Protect Yourself:

  • Never send money, trade, or invest per the advice of someone you have solely met online.
  • Do not disclose your current financial status to unknown and untrusted individuals.
  • Do not provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
  • If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that—unbelievable.
  • Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.

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.