INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - As we approach Valentine's Day, more people are feeling the love. This is the perfect time for scammers to prey on the lonely or brokenhearted. The FBI has a warning to help you avoid becoming the target of a romance scam.
A local mother of two ended up handing over $12,000 to a smooth talking man she met on Facebook.
"I'll have his Mercedes, we'll buy a $2 million home, you'll never have to work again," Heather said.
Heather was going through a divorce when a romance scammer swooped in. His sweet conversation quickly turned into a sob story that he needed money to get through customs in China and his mother was dying.
"He's like well my agent's in Nigeria, I'd have to have you Western Union money there. [It was] $300, then $100, then $200. Before you know it, it's $12,000 later," Heather said.
FBI agents say romance scams aren't slowing down and you could be fueling the movement. It can start by posting too much information about your life on social media that gives predators background to play with your emotions.
"They do their research. These are professionals that scrub you know Facebook and dating websites," FBI Supervisory Special Agent Doug Kasper said.
People who are grieving or going through a divorce are easy targets.
"Once you become a victim or once you send money or once you start communicating with one of these bad actors you're on a list. You're on a list that says you're vulnerable," Kasper said.
Agent Kasper says it's like a boiler room, people who work together to conspire and learn the craft. Since 2016, the FBI has received 15,000 more complaints. So, here are some tips:
- Research the person's photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask lots 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 asks to meet you in person but then always comes up with an excuse to cancel.
- Never send money to anyone you don't know personally.
"It's not going away. We're doing our best to fight it but the biggest thing we can do is educate. Educate people so they know what to not fall for," Kasper said.
This crime is very hard to prove so the best defense is not to become a victim. If you think you've been the victim of a romance scam please file a claim with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center here.