Beware of Romance Scams 

As Valentine's Day approaches, love is in the air. But don't let Cupid rob you of your common sense – or let scammers take advantage of your affections. Romance scams are a common problem and can cost victims thousands of dollars.

In a romance scam, a criminal individual or syndicate creates a fake identity of an appealing person and makes a profile on social media or on a dating site. Generally they steal photos from an actual person, and may even use details of a real person's life, too. The criminal will then approach someone on social media, or try to match with them on a dating app. From there, they will do everything possible to convince the victim that they have a connection. Eventually, when the victim believes they have fallen in love, the scammer will ask for money.

These criminals put a lot of work into scamming people. They'll pretend to care, and talk about building a life together, and yet they always have an excuse why they can't meet. Many of them pretend to be members of the military, which both gives them an air of respectability and honor, and provides an excuse about why they are not in the country. Scammers are clever manipulators. They'll remember birthdays, they may even send flowers – using some other victim's money – to create an impression of love and devotion.

Sometimes the scam culminates in a simple request for money, but sometimes their plans are even more insidious. Victims have become unwitting pawns in money laundering schemes. Our Economic Crimes Unit found one woman who had funneled more than $1,000,000 of dirty money for these scammers, picking up cash and buying vehicles that she would deliver to some unknown person. She thought she was just helping the man she loved, but in reality she was conspiring with a scammer. Even when our detectives told her that the account was fake and the person she thought she loved wasn't real, she didn't believe it.

If someone approaches you online, be cautious. Limit the amount of information you give them, and find out all you can about them. Is their story consistent or does it change? Do they “love bomb” you, showering you with over-the-top emotion too soon? And most importantly, are they willing to meet? Long distance relationships sometimes work, but even then you should insist on video calls or other ways to confirm that the person is who they claim to be. They say love is blind, but don’t shut your eyes to the truth. You may be in love with someone who doesn’t actually exist, a con artist creating a fake identity to get your money.

In fact, be careful every time someone asks you for money. There are so many scams out there – someone will call pretending to be a law enforcement officer and say you'll be arrested for a warrant unless you pay with bitcoin or gift cards. Or you might get a call from someone claiming to be your grandchild who is in legal trouble and needs you to wire money to them. Scammers try to use your emotions against you to force you to make an unwise decision – whether that emotion is love or fear. Whenever anyone asks you for money take a breath, slow down, and take time to figure out if it's on the up and up.

If you believe someone may be trying to scam you, contact the PCSO at our non-emergency number, 582-6200. If you've already given someone money, don't be embarrassed to come forward. We may be able to recover your money, and keep more people from falling victim to a romance scammer.

Posted by Laura Sullivan Thursday, February 8, 2024 2:00:00 PM

Non Emergency Line: (727) 582-6200 | In an Emergency call 911ADA info