PHOENIX - Valentine's Day is coming up, and with that comes a rise in what authorities call ‘romance scams’.
Here's what you need to know to avoid being a victim.
What are romance scams?
According to the FBI, romance scams take place when criminals adopt a fake online identity to gain a victim's affection and trust.
"The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim," read a portion of the FBI's website.
FBI officials say the scammer's intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust.
"Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money," read the FBI's website.
Officials say in romance scams, the scammers would often say they are working in the building and construction industry, and are engaged in projects outside the United States.
"That makes it easier to avoid meeting in person, and more plausible when they ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee," read the FBI's website.
How big of a problem is this?
According to FBI officials in Phoenix, the problem of romance scam is getting worse. They say the amount of money Arizonans lost as a result of such scams were up 65% from 2020 to 2021.
Figures from the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) show that in 2021, 651 Arizonans reported losses of more than $20 million dollars in connection with these scams.
Nationally, figures from IC3 show that in 2018, more than 18,000 people filed complaints with the IC3, alleging that they were victimized by confidence/romance fraud, and losses of $362 million were reported.
"In 2018, confidence/romance fraud was the seventh most commonly reported scam to the IC3 based on the number of complaints received, and the second-costliest scam in terms of victim loss," according to IC3's website.
FBI officials also said that oftentimes, people do not report these crimes because they are embarrassed.
How are people affected by the scam?
Besides people losing money, FBI officials say victims may be unknowingly recruited as a ‘money mule,' or someone who illegally transfers money on other's behalf.
"Actors groom their victims over time and convince them to open bank accounts under the guise of sending or receiving funds. Grooming is defined as preparing a victim to conduct fraudulent activity on their behalf through communications intended to develop a trust relationship," read a portion of the IC3 website. "These accounts are used to facilitate criminal activities for a short period of time. If the account is flagged by the financial institution, it may be closed and the actor will either direct the victim to open a new account or begin grooming a new victim."
In other situations, FBI officials say the scammer would claim to be a European citizen of an American living abroad, and after a few months of developing trust, the scammer would tell the victim about a business opportunity.
"The actor will inform the victim there are investors willing to fund the project, but they need a U.S. bank account to receive funds. The victim is asked to open a bank account or register a limited liability company in the victim’s name and then to receive and send money from that account to other accounts controlled by the actor," read a portion of the IC3 website.
Are there other ways a person can be victimized by romance scams?
An Arizona woman we spoke with said she was victimized by romance scammers in ways others may not be thinking.
"It is not something I ever thought I was going to have to experience," said Kayla Manthey.
In 2017, Manthey posted pictures, like ones of her military deployment, to her social media accounts. Soonafter, scammers got ahold of them, and used them to catfish people.
"They are linking different email addresses, my LinkedIn and Instagram, and conning people into thinking this is really me, and saying you can trust me," Manthey said. ""My photos are on multiple dating websites. They would say I am the one that broke up their marriage or their 401k, and I was like, ‘I am sorry. I have never spoken to you before.’"
Nowadays, Manthey is still reporting fake pages, and has made it her mission to stop this from happening to anyone else.
"The best thing you can do is educate yourself, and loved ones as well," said Manthey.
What are some red flags to look out for?
FBI officials say romance scammers use some common techniques, such as:
- Immediately requests to talk or chat on an email or messaging service outside of the dating site
- Claims that your introduction was ‘destiny’ or ‘fate,’ especially early in communication
- Claims to be from the U.S. but is currently living, working, or traveling abroad
- Asks for money, goods, or any similar type of financial assistance, especially if you have never met in person.
- Asks for assistance with personal transactions (opening new bank accounts, depositing or transferring funds, shipping merchandise, etc.).
- Reports a sudden personal crisis and pressures you to provide financial assistance. Be especially wary if the demands become increasingly aggressive.
- Tells inconsistent or grandiose stories.
- Gives vague answers to specific questions.
- Claims to be recently widowed or claims to be a U.S. service member serving overseas.
- Disappears suddenly from the site, and then reappears under a different name using the same profile information.
What are some things that I can do to avoid being a victim?
FBI officials say people can take a number of steps to avoid being victimized. They include:
- Be careful on what you post and make public online, as scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect, or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
- 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 have only communicated with online or by phone.
I think I've become a victim. What should I do?
FBI officials say if you suspect an online relationship is a scam, you should stop all contact immediately. If you are victimized, FBI officials say you should file a complaint with IC3.
File an IC3 Complaint
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