FBI New York Warns Public About Romance Scams as Valentine’s Day Approaches
This February, Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC) Jim Smith of the FBI's New York Field Office is warning the public about romance scams—a serious crime that is on the rise. In recent years, the FBI has seen a substantial rise in these types of crimes. Seniors, who are often isolated and lonely, are particularly susceptible, but anyone can become a victim. In 2022, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received more than 19,000 complaints about romance scams, with reported losses of almost $740 million. These numbers only reflect incidents reported to the FBI’s IC3; many more romance-scam related crimes likely go unreported. The actual impact to the public may be much higher.
The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do. They spend hours honing their skills, studying how to best understand how to manipulate and exploit their victims. While many victims are college educated and computer literate, con artists have become experts at knowing exactly how to exploit emotional vulnerability. The perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target. Then they use what the victims have on their profile pages and try to work those relationships and see which ones develop.
“The internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be,” said ADIC Smith. “You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people.”
This also explains why romance scams are on the rise: It’s a lucrative and easy crime to commit, and it’s easier still to remain anonymous and beyond the reach of authorities. “It’s not like going into a bank and holding a gun to the teller,” ADIC Smith explained, “because there are so many leads that you provide law enforcement when you do that. With a crime like this, it’s much more difficult. But, behind the veil of romance, it’s a criminal enterprise like any other.”
To stay safe online, be careful what you post, because scammers can use that information against you. Always use reputable websites but assume that con artists are trolling even the most well-known dating and social media sites. If you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, consider the following:
- Think twice before you share personal information online. Scammers can use details shared on dating sites and social media platforms to better target victims.
- Only use dating sites with well-known reputations. Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always comes up with an excuse about why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally. If you don’t know them, don’t send money.
- Never help anyone move money through your account or another person’s account.
- If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately. If you have already sent money, immediately report any transfer of funds to your financial institution and file a complaint with the FBI’s IC3.
Many times, victims are emotionally attached to the individual with whom they believe they are in a relationship or may feel embarrassed by falling victim to a romance scam. When a victim determines they have been exploited, they may not want to share their victimization with anyone, let alone report it to law enforcement. However, the FBI encourages anyone who has been victimized by this fraud or unsuccessfully targeted to contact law enforcement. The more information the FBI has, the better we can protect people from these frauds in the future.
If you are the victim of a romance scam, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov), 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), or FBI New York at 212-384-1000.
On this episode of Inside the FBI, get the latest romance-scam statistics from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and learn how to protect your heart—and wallet—from these schemes.