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Attorney General Stein’s Column: Protect your heart and your wallet this Valentine’s Day

Attorney General Josh Stein
February 2021

Valentine’s Day brings romance to the front of all of our minds, but it can also bring heartbreak. Please take a moment to educate yourself about sweetheart scams. People in our lives who are older or lonely – which many of us are in this pandemic – are particularly vulnerable to these scams. In 2020, our office received complaints about more than 50 sweetheart scams, and North Carolinians lost a staggering $3.1 million to these bad actors. Here’s what to know about them.

Sweetheart scammers prey on our emotions and our human desire to build relationships and find love. They often reach out when a person is at their most vulnerable – after the death of a spouse, a move, or any situation when we are at our weakest. They might connect with a victim through an online dating app or a social media site, and they may pretend to have mutual friends or shared interests so they can begin a conversation. Once they’ve started the conversation, they’ll probably move the conversation to email or text messaging where they can be more intimate.

These scammers will be everything a victim is looking for in a partner in order to win their trust. But they’ll also likely claim they live far away and pretend to have a lengthy sob story that prevents them from coming to visit, or even Skyping or Zooming. Suspiciously, these obstacles always seem to revolve around money – they may have loans to pay off, not be able to afford a ticket, or they’re seriously injured and need to pay for their care. They’ll ask for money so they can resolve their financial issues and visit.

If someone asks for money online, it’s almost always a scam. Don’t pay up – once they have the money, they’ll either ask for more money or they’ll disappear. Also, never wire money or send money through gift cards. Those are telltale signs of a scam.

These scams are even more painful because it can feel embarrassing to have our emotions manipulated and used to take our hard-earned money. Victims may be reluctant to come forward. But unfortunately, these scams are all too common because the desire to build connections with others is all too relatable. Be careful with online relationships in general – people often aren’t who they say they are. Reach out to your friends and family or to my office to double-check or verify details if they don’t add up, or if something seems suspicious. Talk to older adults in your life about these scams so they have their guard up.

If you think you, or someone you know, has been scammed, let us know by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing an online complaint at Let’s make sure this Valentine’s Day is all about true love.

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