It was a bit of a Valentine's Day 'downer' on Wednesday, delivered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. Officials used the day to remind would-be romantics about the dangers of 'Sweetheart Scams.' That’s when criminals use what looks like a romantic interest to set victims up for not only a heartbreak, but also a financial fall.
Stein says such scams robbed 74 North Carolina victims of a more than $2.7 million in 2017. Nine known fraud victims have lost a combined $800,000 so far in 2018, according to Stein. "We believe this represents just a fraction of the actual victims," the attorney general added.
Stein says scam artists often first connect with someone on sites like Facebook or match.com, then try to shift the conversations to email or phone calls. After winning a person’s trust, the criminal typically claims to be facing a crisis, or need money to pay off a loan, medical bills, or other expenses.
Scammers also frequently claim to be working overseas or traveling outside the U.S., according to Stein. In a press release last week from the FBI's Charlotte office, the agency cautioned people seeking relationships via websites, apps or social media to "go slow and ask questions." And, "never send money to someone you don't know personally."
Stein urges any victims to quickly report such scams to law enforcement officials and the state attorney general’s office. Online complaints can be filed at ic3.gov (FBI) and www.ncdoj.gov/complaint (N.C. Attorney General's Office.) Victims may also contact Stein's office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.