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Sweetheart Scams Target Lonely Hearts around Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2022

More and more singles are turning to websites and apps to find love. But if they aren’t careful about vetting their suitors, they could fall victim to fraud. Sweetheart scams are on the rise, and some people who are looking for love online are being preyed upon for financial gain.

The typical scenario looks like this: Scammers connect to victims through an app and begin to tap into the emotions through online courting. The victims believe they’re in a real relationship, and they are soon manipulated by the criminal to transfer money and provide confidential, personal information.

The FBI reported that the average monetary loss on a sweetheart scam is between $15,000 and $20,000, and that number has doubled in a decade. In 2021, romance scams accounted for a total of $133 million in stolen funds.

“The scammer gains the confidence and trust of the victim—through establishing an online relationship—and then claims to have knowledge of cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits,” the FBI stated. “The scammer 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, further gaining the victim's trust.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, fraudsters set up fake profiles using photos they’ve stolen online, and create fake personas of people who are living or traveling outside of the country.  The FTC reported that common backstories include people who say they are in the military, work on an oil rig, or who are doctors with international organizations.

Once an emotional relationship is established, these fraudsters create a sudden dramatic scenario in which they need money to pay for a sudden event—like surgery, medical expenses, travel, a visa and other traveling documents, plane tickets, etc.

They then get victims to transfer money via wire transfer, or with reloadable gift cards from vendors like iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. This allows cash to be handed over quickly while being untraceable and nearly impossible to reverse.

The FTC provides common backstories in the event you or someone you know feels they may be caught up in a sweetheart scam. See the below scenarios to compare:

If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Tell them you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money.

Lastly, there is no harm in filing a report to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, and FBI at ic3.gov. Additionally, it is a good idea to contact the developers of the app or website where you first made contact with the scammer. Even if you haven’t come in contact with a scammer, and see suspicious profiles on dating apps or websites, you can always “report” them to the developers as a precautionary measure.

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