Valentine’s Day means love is in the air, and criminals are online.
The FBI is warning New Mexicans to beware of romance scams which tend to proliferate this time of the year as many people log on to find that special someone.
“Romance scams can have a devastating impact on hearts as well as bank accounts,” said special agent in charge Raul Bujanda of the Albuquerque FBI Division. “Your true love might be waiting for you on a dating website, or it could be someone who will tell you sweet little lies to get your money. Be alert, ask lots of questions and know the warning signs of a scam.”
In 2021, there were more than 170 victims of these types of scams in New Mexico, according to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
About a third of the victims were over the age of 60 and they lost almost $1.5 million — 70 percent of the total loss for victims of all age groups.
Many victims are too embarrassed to report they’ve been scammed, so it’s likely the numbers are much higher.
Romance scam perpetrators are usually men targeting older women who are divorced, widowed, elderly or disabled, but scammers do not discriminate.
One type of romance scam that is becoming more prevalent is “pig butchering,” in which the criminal contacts a victim, usually on dating and social media apps.
After building trust and rapport, the scammer will convince the victim to make investments in cryptocurrency to take advantage of the potential for high yield returns.
To facilitate the investment and demonstrate the returns on investment, victims are directed to websites that appear authentic but are actually controlled by the scammer.
After the victim has made several cryptocurrency investments through these fake sites, which purport significant returns, requests by victims to withdraw or cash-out their investments are denied for one reason or another. The scammer vanishes, cutting off contact with the victim, and taking the invested sums with them.
What exactly is a romance scam?
Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust.
The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim.
How to protect yourself and loved ones:
- Educate yourself on what a romance scam is, how to avoid it, and what to do if you are a victim.
- Good sources of information are fbi.gov/romancescams and IC3.gov, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- Keep an eye on your elderly relatives. Beware if an individual attempts to isolate them from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information.
How it works:
- The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable.
- Con artists are present on most dating and social media sites.
- The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust.
- Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.
- Scam artists often say they are in the construction industry or the military. That makes it easier to avoid meeting in person—and more plausible when they ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee.
- If an online love interest asks you for money at any time before meeting in person, it is a scam.
- If someone online asks you to transfer money or purchase gift cards on their behalf, it is a scam.
- Be suspicious of online love interests who claim to be overseas for business or military/government service.
- Be aware that photos may be stolen. It is easy to pretend to be someone you’re not on the internet.
- Be careful what you post online about yourself and your family
- Research the person’s profile photos to see if they are posted elsewhere on the internet
- Avoid being rushed into taking action because of an “emergency”
- Never send money to anyone you haven’t met in person
- Talk with family and friends if anything seems “too good to be true”
- End all contact if there are any red flags
- If you feel you have been the victim of a romance scam, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov
More information is available at fbi.gov/romancescams.
The Valencia County News-Bulletin is a locally owned and operated community newspaper, dedicated to serving Valencia County since 1910 through the highest journalistic and professional business standards. The VCNB is published weekly on Thursdays, including holidays both in print and online.