CLEVELAND (WJW) – Many will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with their significant others, while others will be spending the holiday alone.
Loneliness, according to prevention experts, can leave you vulnerable to online romance scams, a growing problem in the US.
Here is how some of the most common scams work:
“They start telling you, you’re the most beautiful thing on earth, and just start playing on your sympathies of you know, their starving, they don’t have money to eat on and all this stuff,” one Northeast Ohio woman who asked to remain anonymous said.
The woman is a victim of an elaborate romance scam that spanned one year, costing her more than $10,000.
“It did, about $12,000 if you add up the interest on the credit cards and everything,” she said.
The Cleveland Better Business Bureau said online romance scams are very common across the country. Many often leave victims bank accounts depleted.
“There are scammers out there trying to take advantage of those that are looking for companionship online,” Director of Operations Ericka Dilworth said. “And so, they understand that sometimes those people can be you know, they can be lonely, or they can be, you know, I hate to say easily duped, but I’m sorry to say that.”
This can also happen to any age group.
“They start with the, I would like to be your friend, I would like to be your companion, but it very quickly moves into, ‘Hey, I’m in need of money. What can where how can we go about? Can you loan me some? Can we borrow some? Hey, let’s get into an investment together,’” Dilworth said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation of Cleveland said roughly 20,000 Americans are scammed every year, creating a billion-dollar scamming industry in the US alone.
“It’s gonna be dating websites, just social media in general, which is where they’ll get a lot of background information on the potential victim, right,” Supervisory Special Agent Patrick Koeth said.
Koeth said there are numerous red flags to seek out when dating someone online to avoid being scammed. If the person never wants to meet online, or even hold a video chat, it’s a big red flag.
“Take things slow, get to know that person and ask, you know, valid questions of that person,” Koeth said. “And if you are in what you consider to be an online relationship, ask to face time ask to do a video call. And that would cut out probably the majority of these types of scams. When you actually say, hey, I want to talk to you, or I want to see you in person via the internet as compared to using text message or emails.”
Dilworth said if it feels sketchy ask for advice.
“Talk to a friend, talk to a family member try to get some feedback from them to say this is what’s going on, this is what’s happening,” Dilworth said.
Another strong tip is don’t trust people online so easily.
“Check them out first,” the female romance scam victim said. “To wait a very long time before you make any kind of commitment. And whatever you do, don’t send them any money, period.”
The FBI recommends victims of such crimes to file a report online. Koeth said the FBI is working to investigate such scams every day.
Learn more, here.