WISCONSIN — Romance scams cost Wisconsin residents millions in 2020, and these schemes promising love and affection are on the rise again as Valentine’s Day approaches, the FBI warned this week.
People of all ages are victims, the FBI said, but older women are most often targeted in trust scams using a romantic relationship to defraud them of their money, personal and financial information.
In 2020, Americans lost more than $281 million to romance scams, according to the FBI.
In Wisconsin, people lost $5,664,897 to trust or romance scams, according to data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center. People should be on the lookout for online suitors asking for money, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Consumer Protection said in a statement.
“The scammers lure in vulnerable consumers by professing their love for the victim, then launch an endless stream of demands for money. No amount is ever enough,” the agency added.
The romance scam can play on the loneliness of older Americans, according to AARP, whose research shows a common theme among those targeted in romance scams – they had recently experienced a negative event, whether loss of a spouse or job, or financial setback. Scammers obtain this information by scanning obituaries, online and offline documents, or even rummaging through people’s trash cans.
Skepticism is healthy before entering an online relationship, the FBI said. Some red flags:
- After a first contact on a legitimate dating site, the person tries to communicate by e-mail or messaging services.
- The person claims to be from the United States but lives or travels abroad.
- The person claims that the relationship is “destined” or “fate”.
- The person reports a personal crisis and lobbies for financial assistance.
- The person suddenly disappears, then reappears under a different name.
- The person asks for goods or money before an in-person meeting.
A few tips to protect yourself:
- Never send money or wire transfers to anyone you meet online.
- Never share bank or credit card information with anyone whose identity you have not verified.
- Never share your social security number or other personally identifiable information with anyone who does not need the information for legitimate reasons.
- Pay attention to what you post on social media and your overall online presence. Scammers can use information shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Find the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask the other person lots of questions.
Americans’ growing comfort with online platforms has opened up new avenues for carvers, experts say.
“More and more Americans are generally more comfortable meeting online for platonic and romantic relationships, and these scams follow them, whether it’s apps or social networks that send them messages. friend requests or Facebook instant messages saying, ‘I’m in love with you’ and then asking for money,” Kathy Stokes, director of AARP’s fraud prevention program, told Patch in 2019 for an article on scams targeting older Americans.
Related: Scammers scare and extort millions from your aging parents
Worse still, many people, especially older ones, are reluctant to admit they’ve been scammed for fear of being viewed as naive or incompetent.
“For people who are relatively well educated and think they’re savvy, it’s very demoralizing and shameful to admit they’ve fallen in love with something,” Stokes said. “As a society, we blame victims of scams in a way that we don’t blame other victims of crime. We need to reverse the narrative – ‘this happened to me and I’m empowered to tell my story so that others don’t feel the same embarrassment.’ “
Anyone who thinks they have been the victim of a romance scam should report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Additionally, the FBI said one of the first calls people who have been scammed should make is to their banks, credit unions, and credit card companies. They should also report it to the website or app where the contact started.