On this Valentine's Day, a lot of people are looking for love, but the FBI warns, if you look in the wrong place, you could end up with someone who breaks your bank and your heart.
The FBI says most victims of these "Casanova Cons," are women in their 50s, who live in the U.S., but the suspects almost always live abroad. And the average financial loss from these romantic schemes is around $20,000, and growing.
The need to feel loved is timeless, but can also make us vulnerable.
Cyber courtships generally start out with emails and chatting, then progress to phone calls and, sometimes, lead to them sending you gifts. Experts say those gifts are often used to win your trust and might've been bought with stolen credit cards.
These scammers will spend a lot of time, talking and sharing, learning about your life and your weaknesses, then convincing you they're in love.
Robbing Romeos scour online sites for church groups, social clubs and neighborhood associations—any venue where singles might congregate. There are ways to spot these people before things go too far.
For instance, if they promise to come see you, but then something interferes, the FBI says you should be suspicious. They might claim a family member is sick or they're having financial problems, and they need you to send them money to buy tickets or resolve paperwork issues.
Be especially skeptical if they mention money early on, in the second or third conversation. Or if they want to send you a check and have you cash it, keep some of the money and send the rest to them, because the check is most likely a fraud and you could be on the hook for the entire amount, and even face criminal charges. And beware of requests to invest in their ideas or take out loans on your assets.
If your love interest says they live overseas, since that's where most of these scams originate, that should definitely send up a red flag.
The FBI recommends you only use online dating sites owned by large companies, who have been in business a long time and are reputable.
These crimes happen to both sexes, and many people don't want to admit they've been conned, because they're embarrassed. But the FBI encourages you to report these online scams at ic3.gov, so they can look for patterns and maybe work with overseas counterparts to stop them.
The truth is, not much can generally be done once you've been conned, so it's always better to be smart up front, than become flat broke and brokenhearted later.