VIDEO: FBI warns to beware of Valentine’s Day romance scams

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Better Business Bureau are reminding people this Valentine’s Day to watch out for “Romance Scammers.”

According to the FBI, romance scams result in the highest amount of financial losses compared to other online crimes. There were nearly 15,000 complaints of romance scams in 2015 nationwide for a total of $220 million lost. Tennesseans reported more than $2.25 million during that same time frame.

“These are no amateurs,” said Jason Pack with the FBI in Knoxville. “These people are professionals, they study you, they study what you like, they look at everything you read, at everything you post that’s publicly available about you and then they turn that around and send an interest note to you or want to get to know you better.”

The following tips may be helpful to consider if you develop an online relationship:

  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online search engines to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
  • Take the new relationship slow and ask many questions.
  • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to go “offline.”
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests.
  • 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 wire or send money to anyone you don’t know personally.

According to Tony Binkley with the Better Business Bureau of Greater East Tennessee, $1 billion was lost in the last three years in the United States and Canada to online romance scams.

“Typically these scams start out a little differently than most scams,” said Binkley. “They prey on people’s loneliness and look for companionship.”

Binkley says there can be other consequences to online scamming besides losing money.

“People can get sucked into money laundering, drug trafficking unbeknownst to them,” said Binkley. “They even sometimes fly overseas. It’s happened, and then they get kidnaped and they are held for ransom. It’s a big deal and it’s a big business.”

If you believe you are a victim of a romance scam, file a complaint online at ic3.gov

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