ATLANTA - With Valentine's Day almost here, the FBI warns people to be cautious when getting involved in online relationships because "romance scams" are on the rise.
"There are more and more people that fall victim to this all the time," explained FBI Supervisory Special Agent Chad Hunt.
According to the FBI, in 2018, their Internet Crime Complaint Center received 18,493 complaints from people duped by romance scams across the country. That number rose to 19,473 complaints in 2019, with losses of more than $475 million dollars.
In Georgia, the complaints totaled 437 in 2019 for more than $6.5 million.
In "romance" or "confidence scams," a con artist typically targets widowed or divorced women who are 40 or older and looking for a relationship. They may contact them through social media or an online dating platform.
"The scammers will get to know you through your online profile--your likes, your dislikes," said Hunt. "Oftentimes they'll take copious notes about last time I talked to you we talked about you like this kind of dog, you like to go here. So, they really do their research."
Once they have won their victim over, Hunt said the scammer will ask for money or a service. In some cases, victims have handed over hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"The amount varies by individual, but on aggregate, that's a huge amount of money," Hunt said.
To avoid becoming a victim, the FBI suggests people take several precautions:
- Use an online search function to see if the person's photos appear anywhere else on the internet
- Ask a lot of questions
- Be wary if the person seems "too good to be true"
- If your love interest schedules a time to meet you in person and then suddenly cancels, be suspicious
- Never send money to anyone you do not know in real life
"Go into a relationship cautiously," said Hunt. "It's online. Take it a little bit slowly and go carefully into it and hopefully you do find love, but do so cautiously."
If you believe you have been the victim of a romance scam, file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.