INDIANAPOLIS — As Valentine’s Day nears, the FBI wants people to watch out for fake romances, started online, that can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Tens of thousands of Americans reported to the FBI that they fell victim to romance scams, where people lose money online to people claiming to be love interests.
In 2016 alone, Americans were scammed out of roughly $230 million in nearly 15,000 schemes of this kind — and that’s just based on what was reported.
The Indianapolis division of the FBI said the number of people falling for romance scams continues to skyrocket, so they provided steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim.
Users post vacation photos, interests, announce baby births and family deaths all online for their friends. Unfortunately, those posts are also sometimes also seen by scam artists.
“Gives them more ammo to talk to the interests that they want to hear,” said Doug Kasper, an FBI supervisory special agent.
Kasper said romance scams have been a continuous problem. People, usually widows or recent divorcees, will be wooed online, sending money to their new love interest. But the love ends up being a hoax.
“It’s a bond they’re building with someone they just don’t have right now in their life, so it’s very sad,” said Kasper.
These scammers are armed with extensive profiles, usually working in teams, and the scams happen more than you’d think.
But shame could hide the true totals.
“I think there’s for every one person who reports it, there are hundreds that don’t,” Kasper said.
On Saturday, 24-Hour News 8 spoke with Joleen Rokusek of Indianapolis. She said she lost $225,000 from 2016-2017 in a romance scam.
Joleen was a recent widow when the romance scam began, and elements of what happened to her match perfectly with scenarios mentioned in the FBI warnings.
Beware of contractors overseas:
“He was trying to come home to me from Romania,” she recalled about her scammer.
The person will never show his or her face:
“I only spoke with him on the phone, in texts and emails,” she said.
The person will ask to start a relationship:
“After the first week he told me he had feelings for me,” she said.
Then the scammer will ask for money:
“He did not have access to any funds. He tried all his friends he knew,” she said about why she had to send him money.
While Kasper said it can be great to use social media and dating apps, it’s important to be careful.
The FBI provided other tips they suggest if you plan on starting a romantic relationship with someone you meet online.
- Research the person’s photo online to see if it pops up elsewhere
- Ask a lot of questions
- Don’t send money to someone you don’t know personally
- If you haven’t met the person after a couple months, you should be suspicious.
It’s tough to catch these criminals for a couple reasons: (1) they are on a computer so it can be hard to figure out who is actually scamming you, and (2) these criminals are often overseas so the United States has to extradite them to charge them.
The FBI said the United States has been improving those relationships.
If you want to file a complaint, go here.