Avoiding romance scams: US victims losing millions of dollars each year
HOUSTON - With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, FBI Houston is warning the public not to fall for romance scams.
According to FBI Houston, about 24,000 victims in the United States reported losing approximately $1 billion to romance scams in 2021, and it’s likely that many more losses went unreported.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center’s annual report for 2021 is still being finalized.
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According to IC3's 2020 report, about $600 million in losses to romance scams, or confidence fraud, were reported that year. Just over $475 million in losses were reported in 2019, and $362.5 million was lost in 2018, according to the report.
The FBI says romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain the victim’s affection and trust, and then the scammer uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate or steal from the victim.
Romance scam red flags
The FBI says these scammers are experts at what they do. They may propose marriage or make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen, the FBI says. They will eventually ask for money.
They often claim to be in the building and construction industry and say they are engaged in projects outside the U.S., making it easier to avoid meeting in person, the FBI says. Authorities say it also makes it more plausible when they ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee.
The FBI warns that if someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using your account to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.
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Avoiding Romance Scams
FBI Houston shares these tips 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 image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
• Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
• Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
• 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 for 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, cryptocurrency, or gift cards to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone, regardless of how in love you are or how in love they say they are with you.
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What to do if suspect a romance scam
If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, the FBI says you should stop all contact immediately.
You should file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
Authorities say you do not need to lose money to report a scam.
For more information on romance scams, click here.