Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning of online dating scams.
The FBI said “romance scammers” cost Texans $16 million in 2016. The scheme revolves around people searching for romantic partners on dating websites, apps, or social media. Schemers then obtain personal finance and identifying information.
According to the FBI in 2016, almost 15,000 complaints categorized as romance scams or confidence fraud were reported to IC3, and the losses associated with those complaints exceeded $230 million.
The states with the highest numbers of victims were California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. In Texas, the IC3 received more than 1,000 complaints from victims reporting more than $16 million in losses related to romance scams.
In a Texas case highlighted by the FBI, a woman lost $2 million. The woman met a man online. He said he was a friend of a friend. The woman, in her 50s and struggling in her marriage, was happy to find someone to chat with.
"He was saying all the right things," she remembered. "He was interested in me. He was interested in getting to know me better. He was very positive, and I felt like there was a real connection there."
That connection would end up costing the woman $2 million and an untold amount of heartache after the man she fell in love with—whom she never met in person—took her for every cent she had.
FBI tips for detecting online romance scams, 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.
- Go slow and ask lots of questions.
- 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.
- Never send money to anyone you don't know personally.
If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, the FBI recommends cutting off all contact immediately. The agency urges victims of romance scams to file a complaint with its Internet Crime Complaint Center .