In the scam, a con artist creates a phony profile online, contacts a potential victim, and begins communicating with the person through messages or calls. Eventually, the scammer asks for money.
“Scam artists will pretend to be someone they’re not,” DeWine said. “They’ll start to communicate with a person online, and they’ll forge an emotional connection. At some point, they’ll start asking for money.”
Romance scammers often claim to be:
• A soldier, general, or other military member stationed overseas;
• An oil rig worker;
• A businessperson working in another country;
• An heir to a large inheritance;
• In need of money for travel, medical, or business costs.
They may send photos or documentation to “prove” their identity and spend hours communicating with the victim before asking for money. Victims generally are asked to send wire transfers or money orders. They may be told that they will be repaid, but once they send their money, it is nearly impossible to recover.
In 2016, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office received about 60 romance (or “sweetheart”) scam complaints. Consumers reported losing an average of over $21,000, but some reported sending as much as $100,000 or more over the course of months or years.
To avoid romance scams:
• Research someone you meet online; don’t rely solely on what that person tells you. Conduct internet searches and check with independent sources to verify the person’s claims.
• Be careful about accepting friend requests on Facebook or other sites, even if you think you know the person making the request. Some scam artists create phony online profiles to trick potential victims.
• Be cautious of individuals who claim it was destiny or fate that brought you together or who claim to love you soon after you meet online.
• Talk to friends and family members about any online relationships, even if the other person asks you to keep the relationship a secret.
• Don’t send money to someone you’ve only met online, even if you have developed a close online relationship with the individual.
• Be very skeptical of requests for wire transfers, money orders, prepaid money cards, or gift cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers.
If you suspect a scam, report it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by calling 800-282-0515 or visiting www.OhioProtects.org.