Don’t Let a Criminal Break Your Heart and Your Bank Account
FBI Offers Information to Prevent Being Lured Into a Romance Scammer’s Web
SACRAMENTO—Online dating has become a mainstream method for meeting new people. Unfortunately, criminals also leverage online platforms to develop connections with you to steal much more than your heart. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Sacramento Field Office is educating the public about romance scams to stop criminals in their tracks and to urge victims to reach out to law enforcement right away to protect themselves and others.
While many well-intentioned singles connect with real matches, criminals lurk on platforms and within chatrooms, seeking hearts and finances to ensnare. While the criminal’s behavior may seem like normal online dating behavior, especially at first, some indicators offer that your money—not your heart—is the target.
Beware if your virtual beloved:
- Seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
- Attempts to isolate you from friends and family.
- Requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Promises to meet in person, but then always comes up with an excuse for why they can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Applies pressure tactics to get you to send or invest money.
These online predators do not use their own photographs; they often use images from compromised social media accounts as their own. A reverse image search can determine if a profile picture is being used elsewhere on the Internet, and on which websites it was used. Often, an online search will also provide information that links the image with other scams or victims.
To find victims, criminals search chat rooms, dating sites, and social networking sites looking for unsuspecting individuals looking for love and companionship. It is important to understand that criminals who leverage romance scams for financial gain are experts at their craft and often target more than one victim at a time.
These romances often seem magical. Scammers will cross-reference social media accounts, to glean sensitive information that helps them manipulate and exploit their intended victims. As relationships progress, scammers spin tales of fledgling businesses in need of capital or severe life circumstances, tragedies, deaths in the family, injuries to themselves, or other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes. Victims are asked to send money to help their online love navigate the challenges despite the fact neither has met in real life.
Once the victim is willing to send money to the scammer, funds are requested in the form of a cashier’s check, money order, wire transfer, or gift card, sometimes through an intermediary. The criminal legitimizes the ask by claiming they are unable to cash personal checks or receive the funds directly.
In some cases, the financial risk is less obvious, and may also implicate the victim in the criminal act. Scammers may ask victims to reship packages or receive and send funds on their behalf. Victims may risk losing money and incurring other expenses, such as bank fees and penalties. In some instances, victims may face prosecution for participating in the crime.
To avoid becoming a romance scam victim:
- Be careful of what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Be wary of anyone you first encounter online rather than in real life. People can pretend to be anything or anyone online.
- Research a 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.
- Never send money to someone you meet online, especially by wire transfer.
- Never provide credit card numbers or bank account information without verifying the recipient’s identity.
- Never share your Social Security number or other personally identifiable information that can be used to access your accounts with someone who does not need to know this information.
The number of victims and total dollar loss is rising each year. In 2019, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center received complaints from 3,023 California victims who experienced a combined total dollar loss of $93,927,669. Nationally, 24,299 individuals were victimized by confidence scams in 2021 resulting in a total dollar loss $956,039,740. That’s a lot of broken hearts.
If you are a victim of a romance scam, seek help from law enforcement immediately. Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov, the FBI Sacramento Field Office at (916) 746-7000, or both. Also report the activity to company that owns the platform where the communication was first initiated to protect others from becoming victims, too.