Don’t get your heart broken this Valentine’s day. FBI Phoenix wants to educate the public on romance scams, also called confidence fraud. Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), 560 Arizona victims reported losses of more than $12 million in connection with confidence fraud/romance scams in 2020.
The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable. These scammers are present on most dating and social media sites. They will attempt to earn your love, may even propose marriage, and make plans to meet in person, but victims will likely never see them. Eventually, the criminals will ask for money.
These scam artists often say they are in the building and construction industry and are engaged in projects outside the U.S. That makes it easier to avoid meeting in person—and more plausible when they ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee.
The following tips may be helpful to consider if you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online:
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Never provide your financial information, loan money, nor allow your bank accounts to be used for transfers of funds. Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
- If you are traveling to a foreign country to meet someone check the State Department’s Travel Advisories beforehand (http://travel.state.gov/), provide your itinerary to family and friends, and do not travel alone if possible.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or Facebook to go “offline.”
- 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 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.
- If you are planning to meet someone in person you have met online, meet in a public place and let someone know where you will be and what time you should return home.
Victims may be hesitant to report being taken advantage of due to embarrassment, shame, or humiliation. It’s important to remember, romance scams can happen to anyone at any time.
If you suspect your online relationship is a scam, cease all contact immediately. If you are a victim who has already sent money, immediately report the incident to your financial institution. Then inform your local law enforcement agency or FBI Phoenix at (623) 466-1999. Victims are also encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI at ic3.gov.
For more information on romance scams, visit: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/romance-scams.