The FBI has a message for those looking for love online this week: watch your wallet. The agency is warning people that so-called “romance scams” have jumped 20 percent, and these types of schemes net some of the biggest financial losses compared to other online crimes.
You may think you’re too savvy to be taken by an online scammer, but the Deputy Special Agent Craig Fair with the FBI’s San Francisco Division says crooks got away with more than $30 million in California alone in 2016.
“We have talked to victims in the Bay Area who have been taken for hundreds of thousands of dollars and even more than a million in a couple cases,” he said.
Nationwide, more than 15,000 complaints were logged by the agency, totally more than $230 million.
“Any site out there where individuals are posting personal information, they are presenting themselves as a vulnerability to these types of scams.” Fair added.
A San Francisco woman who didn’t want to be identified told KTVU about a scammer that impersonated a military service member to lure her into an online relationship. She ended up wiring him money several times before she finally broke it off.
But there may be some good news for any victims who were taken by a scammer, and sent money through Western Union. The Federal Trade Commission has announced that the anyone who sent money to a scammer through the company may be eligible for a refund.
The deadline to file has been extended to May 31, 2018.
In the meantime, the FBI warns people to take caution with developing relationships online and offers the following tips:
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to go “offline.”
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests.
- 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 don’t know personally.
If you believe you are a victim of a romance scam, file a complaint online at ic3.gov.