The scams generally begin when a con artist creates a phony profile on a dating website or social media and meets a victim online. The two begin communicating, and eventually the scammer asks the victim to send money.
Consumers have reported losing an average of $29,000 to sweetheart scams this year, according to about 40 complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in 2016. Some consumers have reported sending more than a hundred thousand dollars over the course of several months or years.
“These con artists are very good at what they do,” DeWine said. “They’re good actors. They’ll communicate with someone for months, but at some point they start asking for money. The people who fall for this just get caught up in the relationship and the web of lies that these predators weave.”
Often in sweetheart scams, con artists claim to be located in another state or country. They may pretend to be an oil rig worker, a military member stationed overseas, or a businessperson working in another country. Con artists may even send forged photos or documentation in order to “prove” their identity.
After developing a relationship with the victim through messages or phone calls, the scammers begin asking for money. They use various phony excuses to explain why they need the funds, such as:
• To cover airfare to come visit,
• For hospital fees or medical costs,
• To get out of a foreign country, or
• To access an inheritance they promise to share with the victim.
Victims generally are asked to send money using a wire-transfer service, money order, prepaid card, gift card, or other hard-to-trace payment method. Once the money is sent, it is nearly impossible to recover.
Tips to avoid sweetheart scam include:
• Research someone you meet online; don’t rely only on what that person tells you. Conduct internet searches and check with independent sources to verify the person’s claims.
• 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 relationship with the individual.
• Be very skeptical of requests for money sent via wire transfer, money order, prepaid money cards, or gift cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers.
Consumers who suspect a scam should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or www.OhioProtects.org.