Watch out for romance scams this Valentine’s Day, FBI warns

Scammers taking advantage of more people working from home, spending more time online, FBI officials say

Close-up Of Businesswoman Paying With Credit Card On Mobile Phone. Romance scam.
Close-up Of Businesswoman Paying With Credit Card On Mobile Phone. Romance scam. (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – While love is definitely in the air around Valentine’s Day, residents need to watch out for offers for love online.

FBI officials in San Antonio are issuing a warning about the rise in romance scams this time of the year, especially since more people are working from home and spending more time online.

According to the FBI, 23,768 people in 2020 fell victims to romance scams with a reported loss of approximately $605,120,598.

Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust and uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim, FBI officials said.

The scammers will seem genuine, caring, believable and are prevalent on most dating and social media sites. They intend to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself or herself to the victim and gain trust, FBI officials said. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person. Eventually, they will ask for money.

One common ploy scammers will use is to claim they work on an offshore oil rig, or in the building and construction industry and are engaged in projects outside the United States, which makes it easier to avoid meeting in person and more plausible when they ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee.

The scammer may ask the victim to send money to a third party, also known as a “money mule” or will ask the victim to convert the money into cryptocurrency. The scammer may even pretend to be a celebrity. 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.

The FBI has provided more information about how to keep safe from romance scams on its website.

Tips for Avoiding Romance Scams:

  • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
  • Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
  • Beware of false promises 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, you have a good reason to be suspicious.
  • Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name or details have been used elsewhere.
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends or family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
  • 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.
  • If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, STOP all contact immediately.

If you are the victim of a romance scam, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) .


About the Author:

David Ibañez has been managing editor of KSAT.com since the website's launch in October 2000.