ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Few things can wreck the most romantic day of the year like being scammed by your would-be-lover. This Valentine’s Day, Special Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Albuquerque are warning all New Mexicans to keep their eyes peeled for online romance scams.
Local FBI Public Affairs Officer, Frank Fisher, says that the season of love is the perfect breeding ground for con artists looking to prey on both the heartstrings and purse strings, of those looking for love online. Hovering around chat rooms and social media, these fraudsters often pose as Americans working or traveling abroad, romancing their victims and coaxing them into giving them substantial amounts of money, personal information, or compromising photos before vanishing into thin air.
In 2019 alone, 114 New Mexicans fell victim to a romance scam, resulting in a more than $1,500,000 loss statewide. Unknown to the victims, their dream guy or gal’s impressive presence on social media was often snagged from stock photo collections or military websites. Using these false identities they convince their victim that true love abounds, they promise to meet in person and even propose marriage, but none of it is true. Once the scammer knows they’ve hooked a victim, they say they’re in a compromising situation and need financial help. They often promise to pay the victim back, then disappear.
She never thought it could happen to her
In the case of one Texas woman who lost her whole life savings, it was her strong Christian faith that she shared publicly on Facebook, which gave one con artist the chance to take advantage of her lonely heart.
The woman told the FBI that after she friended a man who called himself Charlie on Facebook, the interaction seemed genuine. “He would read my wall, I would read his wall. We would post things, he would like things. Then it got to where we would share e-mails. We started sharing pictures,” she said.
Charlie claimed to be in the construction field. “He was trying to finish up a job in California,” the woman said, “and he needed some money to help finish the job. I thought about it long and hard. I prayed about it. I’ve always been a very giving person, and I figured if I had money … I could send him some. And he promised to have it back within 24 to 48 hours. I thought, ‘I could do that.’ It was kind of a statement of faith, too.”
She wired him $30,000 but never got her money back. The FBI says for the next two years, the woman continued to believe Charlie’s stories. Eventually, her financial advisor suspected fraud and urged her to contact the FBI. An investigation led to the arrest of two of Charlie’s co-conspirators from Nigeria, but “Charlie” was never found.
“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. I not only invested money in this man but there is a big, huge piece of my heart that I invested in him.”Romance Scam Victim
Tips from local FBI agents with Frank Fisher
Don’t let it happen to you
To stay safe online, be careful what you post, always use reputable dating and social media websites, and know that con artists can seek people out regardless of the site’s reputation. If you do develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, consider the following tips from the FBI:
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or Facebook to go “offline.”
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, the best course of action is to stop all contact immediately. To file a complaint with the FBI, click here.
Do you know of a good community story? Email Haylee Knippel with your tip at firstname.lastname@example.org.