WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — With Valentine’s Day around the corner, keep your guard up for so-called “romance scams,” where perpetrators misrepresent themselves online and appeal to romance and emotion to try to get your money.
These sweetheart swindles are the fastest growing scams online, according to the National Consumers League, which reports a 45 percent jump in romance scams in 2018 compared to 2017.
The NCL reports the average victim loses more than $18,000.
“The victims tend to be well educated and unfortunately, have some kind of emotional vulnerability,” FBI special agent Steven Shapiro said.
He said after a relationship is established online, the scammer will often send gifts, like poetry or flowers, and make long-term plans such as going on a lavish vacation.
Scammers usually ask their victims for money in increments.
Debby Montgomery Johnson fell into the trap a few years after her husband died. She thought it would be safe to online date from the comfort of her home. She met a man on a website who claimed to be a British businessman. Over their two-year relationship, they would speak often but never met in person.
“We messaged every day,” she said.
Johnson says she gave the man more than $1 million in increments.
“At this point, your heart rules your head,” she warned.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations reports more than 15,000 complaints of confidence fraud in 2017, with losses of more than $200 million. The FBI recommends ceasing communication with a suspicious person and reporting them the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.