Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – the principal federal law enforcement agency of the United States – is giving tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of romance scams to users of online dating websites, according to a press release from the FBI field office in Richmond, Virginia.

“Well-rehearsed criminals search dating sites, apps, chat rooms, and other social media networking sites attempting to build ‘relationships’ for the sole purpose of getting your money or your personally identifiable information,” the FBI warned in the press release issued on February 3, 2020.

“Valentine’s Day and the days leading up to it can be exciting, but it can also lead to heartbreak, embarrassment, and financial loss,” the FBI explained. The agency suggested that those people using online dating websites should take the following steps to avoid becoming victims of romance scams.

  • 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, 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,” the FBI stated in the press release. More information about scams and safety is available on the FBI website.

People who suspect their online relationship is a scam should cease all contact immediately. Victims of romance scams who have already sent money should report the incident to their financial institution, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center, and contact law enforcement.

In February 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released data from the agency’s Consumer Sentinel Network that showed consumers reported losing $201 million to romance scams in 2019, up nearly 40 percent since 2018. More than 25,000 consumers filed a report with the FTC about romance scams in 2019.

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