Don’t fall for fraud this Valentine’s Day: FBI warns of romance scams targeting Ohioans

In this photo illustration the Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen on March 25, 2009 in London, England.
In this photo illustration the Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen on March 25, 2009 in London, England.

Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

An FBI task force is warning Ohioans of emerging romance and inheritance scams, as well as people claiming to help others in need.

The scammers are asking targets to send money using a wire transfer, prepaid debit and gift cards or cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, according to the Southern Ohio Digital Organized Crime Group.

ExploreOhio logged 24,000 scam complaints in 2020. Here are the most common ones.

“The FBI has seen an increase in the number of frauds and the amount of money lost over recent months,” stated FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman. “We want to help prevent these types of scams while working to investigate and prosecute those who are committing fraud and stealing the hard-earned savings of local residents.”

Last year, 284 people in central and southern Ohio lost more than $3.5 million due to romance and confidence scams, according to the FBI.

Recently, the most common scam is related to love.

Scammers often start on legitimate dating, social media or networking websites and convince the victim they are dating without meeting in person. They build a relationship with the victim before asking for more to help fix a fake financial need.

A common theme in romance scams is the reason why the scammer can’t meet the victim in person, according to the FBI. Scammers use excuses such as being overseas for work, the military or even health quarantines.

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Romance and other scams also are frequently used to recruit money mules, people who unknowingly are used to illegally transfer money obtained through criminal activity. Once a relationship is built up, the scammers ask the victim to open bank accounts, cash checks, purchase pre-paid debit cards or use CVC kiosks that allow people to exchange cash and virtual currency to transfer money.

Organized crime groups have used the coronavirus pandemic and cryptocurrency to quickly move money from victims and out of the country, according to the FBI.

To avoid being a victim, the FBI recommends the following:

  • Be cautious of online relationships with people you haven’t met in person.
  • Never send money or personal information to someone you’ve only communicated with online or through texts.
  • Go slow and ask questions. Be suspicious if the person promises to meet in person or via video chat, but then always backs out with an excuse.
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If you think you’ve been the victim or target of a romance scam, stop talking to that person immediately and do not send them any money. Keep records of communication, such as texts, messages and emails, and contact your bank and any services used to make financial transactions. Contact law enforcement and also report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

For more information on romance scams, visit www.fbi.gov/romancescams and www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-you-need-know-about-romance-scams.

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