CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Criminals attempt romance fraud schemes every day, but Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity to raise awareness and help protect yourself and loved ones.
Romance scams occur when a fake online identity is used 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.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reports that in West Virginia, 103 victims lost roughly $3.4 million in 2022 to romance scams, also called confidence fraud. Nationwide, approximately 19,000 victims reported a loss of more than $700 million last year.
“Romance scams can prove costly in terms of money, but they also cause great emotional harm to victims and their families,” said United States Attorney Will Thompson of the Southern District of West Virginia. “It’s never too late to learn how to detect and avoid becoming a victim of a romance scheme. There’s never any shame in reporting a scam or seeking help: the techniques used by these criminals are often extremely sophisticated.”
Thompson added that his office expects to issue a significant educational resource targeting romance and elder fraud in the coming weeks.
Experts offer tips for flagging romance scams:
- Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- 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 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 have only communicated with online or by phone. Never provide your financial information or allow your bank accounts to be used for transfers of funds.
Requests for gift cards are also a red flag. The FBI has additional tips and information for protecting against romance and confidence fraud: https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/safety-resources/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/romance-scams.
The FBI’s IC3 has numerous resources including an online complaint form: https://www.ic3.gov/Home/ComplaintChoice.
These schemes affect victims from all demographics, but elderly women are targeted most. The U.S. Department of Justice offers information through its Elder Justice Initiative and the Office of Victims of Crime: https://ovc.ojp.gov/program/stop-elder-fraud/providing-help-restoring-hope.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday-Friday. English, Spanish, and other languages are available.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.