Pittsburgh, PA (WOAY) – Last year, roughly 300 victims in Western PA and West Virginia reported losing around $7.1 million from romance scams. The FBI states the number may be much higher as several victims did not report their losses.
While the month of February and Valentine’s Day may be exciting for hopeless romantics, it can also lead to heartbreak and financial loss.
Skilled criminals search dating sites, apps, chat rooms, and other social media networking sites, attempting to build relationships to gain money and personally identifiable information from individuals.
To attract victims, romance scammers often create fake profiles on dating sites and social media apps.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or IC3, romance scams, also called confidence fraud, led to 103 West Virginia victims losing about $3.4 million last year.
If you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, please consider the following:
· Only use reputable, nationally-recognized dating websites; however, be aware that scammers may be using them too.
· Research photos and profiles in other online search tools and ask questions.
· Never provide your financial information, loan money, nor allow your bank accounts to be used for transfers of funds.
· Do not allow attempts to isolate you from family and friends.
· Do not blindly believe the stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, family deaths, injuries, or other hardships geared at keeping your interest and concern.
· 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.
· 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.
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 an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. You can report scams even if you haven’t lost money. If you are a victim who has already sent money, immediately report the incident to your financial institution.