HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Valentine’s Day is known as the most romantic holiday of the year. It’s a time when many are looking for love, and when scammers are looking to prey on your vulnerability.
In the era of social media, online dating and dating apps, the FBI is sending a warning for the public to be aware of Romance Schemes, which are more prevalent this time of year.
A new 2019 Internet Crime Report from the FBI shows that Tampa Bay has seen an increase in people falling victim to illegal schemes – with romance fraud being one of the crimes with the most reported losses.
According to the FBI, in this type of fraud, scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners on dating websites, apps, or social media by obtaining access to their financial or personal identifying information. They could also ask for money – claiming to need it for everything from medical expenses to traveling costs. The FBI cautions everyone who may be romantically involved with a person online.
Statewide, at least 1,363 victims reportedly lost $43,500,838 last year.
The county had 25 victims report romance fraud to the FBI in 2018 with a collective $277,085 lost. Last year, however, those numbers increased to 30 victims losing just over $1,266,126.
In Sarasota, the increase within the last two years is even more dramatic. Only 9 victims reported total losses of $9,471.96 in 2018. In 2019 though, Sarasota had 26 victims report more than $1,213,201 in losses to the FBI.
The FBI lists the following tips if you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online:
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask a lot of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or Facebook to go “offline.”
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests. inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
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