CHARLESTON, WV (WVNS) – Criminals attempt romance fraud schemes every day, but Valentine’s Day is a huge day for them to target people. So it’s just as good an opportunity to raise awareness and help protect yourself and loved ones.

Romance scams occur when a fake online identity is used 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.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reports that in West Virginia, 103 victims lost roughly $3.4 million in 2022 to romance scams. Nationwide, approximately 19,000 victims reported a loss of more than $700 million last year. United States Attorney Will Thompson of the Southern District of West Virginia explained the importance of awareness.

“Romance scams can prove costly in terms of money, but they also cause great emotional harm to victims and their families. It’s never too late to learn how to detect and avoid becoming a victim of a romance scheme. There’s never any shame in reporting a scam or seeking help: the techniques used by these criminals are often extremely sophisticated.”

United States Attorney Will Thompson of the Southern District of West Virginia

Experts offer these tips for flagging romance scams:

  • Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
  • 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. Never provide your financial information or allow your bank accounts to be used for transfers of funds.

Thompson added that his office expects to issue a significant educational resource targeting romance and elder fraud in the coming weeks.

These schemes affect victims from all demographics, but elderly women are targeted most. The U.S. Department of Justice offers information through its Elder Justice Initiative and the Office of Victims of Crime here.

If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).The FBI has additional tips and information for protecting against romance and confidence fraud here.

The FBI’s IC3 has numerous resources including an online complaint form here.