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With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned Americans to be on the lookout for cyber-based romance scams.

The Richmond, Virginia, branch of the FBI said criminals used the most romantic day of the year as an opportunity to con victims out of their hard-earned cash or personal data. For these heartless cyber-villains, websites and apps intended to aid people in their quest to find love are nothing more than prime hunting grounds brimming with easily exploitable victims. 

In a warning released on Monday, the FBI wrote: “Valentine’s Day and the days leading up to it can be exciting, but it can also lead to heartbreak, embarrassment, and financial loss. 

“Well-rehearsed criminals search dating sites, apps, chat rooms, and other social media networking sites attempting to build ‘relationships’ for the sole purpose of getting your money or your personally identifiable information.”

To help romance seekers stay safe, the FBI issued seven guidelines to follow when looking for love online.

Advice to “only use reputable, nationally-recognized dating websites,” was accompanied with the important message that scammers may be using these sites as well. 

Users were advised to perform a background check of their potential love match, using online search tools to verify photos and profiles and asking questions. 

“Do not blindly believe the stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, family deaths, injuries, or other hardships geared at keeping your interest and concern,” warned the Bureau. 

The FBI urged users never to provide their financial information, loan money, or allow their bank accounts to be used for transfers of funds. 

Anyone who has formed a romantic connection via the internet and is planning to arrange a meeting in real life should make sure that they meet in a public place and that they tell a friend where they are going, whom they are meeting, and when they will be returning home. Any attempts to isolate a user from their family and friends should be avoided at all costs.

According to the FBI, victims may be hesitant to report being taken advantage of by a romance scammer due to embarrassment, shame, or humiliation. 

“It’s important to remember, romance scams can happen to anyone at any time,” the FBI warned.

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