ST. GEORGE — Romance scams can happen to anyone at any time, but fraudsters are ratcheting things up for Valentine’s Day, and instead of finding love, some will find a scammer trying to trick them into sending money.

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While Feb. 14 for many is often associated with romance and flowers, for online thieves it provides another opportunity to take advantage of the public by tricking unsuspecting people into falling in love to steal not only their heart but drain their bank account as well.

The FBI’s Salt Lake City field office has joined forces with the Utah Attorney General’s Office to issue a warning to anyone romantically involved with someone online to proceed carefully and stay alert to warning signs. 

Romance scams involve a fraudster who preys on an unsuspecting victim by pulling at their heartstrings to get them to give them what they want, which is to trick the victim into sending them money, U.S. Attorney Trina A. Higgins said in a statement released Tuesday. 

Romance scams occur when one of the parties believes they are in a relationship and is tricked into sending money, personal and financial information or items of value to the fraudster. Seniors and vulnerable adults are often targeted. 

“They work quickly to build trust, only to manipulate victims into sending money or sharing personal information,” said FBI special agent Shohini Sinha in the release. 

Fraudsters start by creating fake profiles to search for potential victims on dating sites, single applications and social media platforms, and then they strike up a relationship with someone to build up trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day.

Then, they make up a story and ask for money.

Authorities warn that all scammers, not just romance scammers, want to get the money quickly and in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for the victim to get it back. They are also known to adjust their story to what they think will work in each situation. They will tell the victim to wire money through a company like Western Union, or most often, to put money on gift cards and then give them the PIN codes, which allows them to access the funds right away.

The FBI and the AG’s office said there are ways the public can protect themselves and avoid becoming a victim, the first of which is never to provide personal financial information or loan money to anyone online or send money to someone you don’t personally know. 

Beware of a suitor who seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or to go “offline,” and beware of promises to meet in person that are always broken for one reason or another. If no face-to-face meeting has occurred after a few months, there is good reason for suspicion.

 Also researching the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere is recommended. 

According to the most recent FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, in 2022, Utah reported losses of more than $3.6 million in connection with confidence fraud and romance scams during that year alone.

In fact, nearly 70,000 people reported they were victimized in a romance scam in 2022 and the losses hit a staggering $1.3 billion, up from the $547 million in losses reported in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Moreover, the FTC report also indicates that gift cards were used more than any other payment method to pay these fraudsters, but the report also revealed that cryptocurrency payments were the most costly.

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If anyone suspects an online relationship is a scam, all contact should be stopped immediately and victims who have already sent money should report the incident to their financial institution and then to their local police department. Victims are also encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI at the Internet Crime Complaint Center. For more information on romance scams click here. 

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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