FBI Warns of Rise in Bay Area Romance Scams
According to the latest data, romance scams are on the rise across the Bay Area, and the FBI San Francisco field office is warning the public about new trends in romance scams ahead of Valentine’s Day. In 2021, complaints filed with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) showed that victims within the FBI San Francisco division’s territory lost more than $64 million to romance scams compared to just over $35 million in 2020. IC3 received 742 complaints within the Northern District of California last year compared to 720 in 2020 and 526 in 2019.
Romance scam victims were reported in every county within the FBI San Francisco division's territory last year. The county with the highest victim reporting and dollar amount loss was Santa Clara County, followed by San Francisco County and Alameda County. While these schemes affect victims from all demographics, older adults are the most targeted group. Last year, the age group with the highest victim reports within our region was 60 years and older, with a victim count of 193 and a dollar amount loss of over $18 million.
New Trend in Romance Scams: The FBI San Francisco 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 believe you are a victim of a romance scam, the FBI recommends reporting the activity to the IC3 at ic3.gov and immediately contact your financial institution.
*For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact the FBI San Francisco Media Office at firstname.lastname@example.org*