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Attorney General Stein’s February Column: Don’t get Caught in a Bad Romance this Valentine’s Day

February 2023

On this Valentine’s Day, don’t let scammers steal your heart or your money. Making connections is on the front of our minds this time of year, but some bad actors seek financial gain by exploiting our basic human desires. Sweetheart scams are no joke. Last year, my office received 60 complaints about sweetheart scams and people lost more than $5,771,340 to them! Victims lost $104,933 on average.

Sweetheart scams are one of the most common types of fraud my office sees. These scams happen when con artists use social media or dating websites to trick people into starting an online romantic relationship. Sweetheart scammers are professional con artists. They are very convincing and appear interested in and committed to you. Once they’ve gained your trust, they often move the conversation from an online dating site or social media channel to phone chats or email so they can’t be as easily monitored. One red flag is that they can’t meet you in person because they claim to live overseas or travel frequently for work.

When a scammer feels like they’ve got you hooked, they strike. These fraudsters will say they need your financial help for a host of reasons, including:

  • Needing money for airline tickets to visit you
  • Paying for a visa or other travel documents
  • Helping pay fines or fees to get them out of trouble
  • Taking advantage of investment opportunities
  • Having urgent medical expenses
  • Experiencing some other personal crises.

The best tip to protect yourself is if you don’t know the person who contacted you, don’t connect with them. And if somebody you’ve only met online asks you for money, it is almost always a scam. These scammers will make their need for money sound urgent and will give you specific instructions on how to send it – through gift cards, cryptocurrency, or instant money transfers. Sweetheart scammers will make big promises that include starting a future with you. But once you’ve sent the money, they will always find a reason to need more.

By the time you have figured out that your online connection has scammed you, they will disappear forever, and your money is gone for good. Just remember that the person on the other side of the screen you think is your friend likely isn’t who you think they are.

Learn more about sweetheart scams, and if you think you, or someone you know has been scammed, call my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or file an online complaint at www.ncdoj.gov/complaint. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day, and don’t let scammers leave your heart or your bank account broken.

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