If you find yourself particularly cynical this Valentine’s Day, railing at the prospect of heart-shaped chocolates and impossible dinner reservations, expensive flowers and traditions feted by Hallmark and lamented by your single friends, maybe you can take comfort in the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is behind you in your Valentine’s frustration… sort of. In preparation for this year’s celebration of love, the FBI released an earnest warning in an effort to raise awareness of confidence fraud, otherwise known as online romance scams.
Especially prevalent this time of year, this very particular kind of fraud sees scammers taking advantage of the lovelorn and lonely, finding vulnerable romantics on dating websites, apps, and social media and gaining access to their financial and personal information in the process. Cupid would be devastated.
According to the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the love grifts are more common and lead to a bigger windfall than one might expect. The center tallied roughly 19,000 victims reporting over $700,000,000 in losses in 2022. In Los Angeles alone, 1200 of those victims reported more than $122,000,000 in losses. The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, found nearly 70,000 people had reported romance scams with losses hitting over $1 billion—with 2021’s reported losses losses weighing in at more than six times what they were in 2017. Essentially: The problem is getting worse.
According to the numbers, romance scams rank among the top of all internet crimes in terms of financial devastation. The love grifters “look to establish a relationship as quickly as possible and endear themselves to the victim,” the FBI warns. “Many may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person. Eventually, they will ask for money.”
According to KTLA, a widow named “Lynn” was targeted on a dating website by someone claiming to be a successful businessman from Germany named Hubert. Lynn eventually sent Hubert $120,000 in total, reassured by his declarations of love. “You want to believe… you wanna have faith, you want to trust,“ Lynn said. “When they start telling you they love you after a short period of time, hang up the phone, run away.”
Happy #ValentinesDay! 💞
ICYMI: New FTC data sheds new light on lies that romance scammers use to take advantage of people—lies that reports to the FTC show cost nearly 70K consumers $1.3B in 2022. Median reported loss? $4,400. 💔 More: https://t.co/1dnBC373vN /1 pic.twitter.com/Ix1Qr7QWOp
— FTC (@FTC) February 14, 2023
Lynn’s story was a grim echo of another case, as reported by The Daily Mail, where 69-year-old Laura Francis was scammed out of $250,000 in crypto currency by two different con artists. One masqueraded as a military surgeon and one as a Los Angeles-based oil tycoon.
In 2022, a federal grand jury indicted two Chinese nationals who used romance scams to collect over $1 million from their victims in just six months. And, in 2020, a Santa Monica man, Antonio Mariot Wilson, pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge of using a romance scam to convince victims to invest in sound design and software companies that did not exist. All in all, he was able to collect $387,000.
As they prepare for this year’s conning Casanovas, the FBI is directing complaints to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, reminding people to remember that, more often than not, a quick online profession of love is not romance but a giant red flag.
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