“Sometimes online dating works out very well, but unfortunately, there are some con artists who pretend to be someone they’re not,” DeWine said. “They string people along, and at some point, they start asking for money.”
In the scam, con artists often meet their victims on social media or dating websites. They create phony profiles and communicate with their victims via text or phone, sometimes for months or years. They may send forged photos or documents in order to “prove” their identity.
Eventually they ask for money, using a real-sounding excuse. For example, a con artist may claim to be:
• A doctor working overseas who is robbed and needs money for a new passport.
• An engineer building a bridge in India who is robbed and needs money to come home.
• A U.S. military member stationed overseas who needs money to buy a plane ticket.
• A jeweler traveling in Africa detained after trying to board a plane with a diamond.
The con artist generally instructs the victim 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.
In 2017, about 40 Ohioans reported losing money to sweetheart scams. The average reported loss was close to $40,000.
Tips to avoid sweetheart scams include:
• Research someone you meet online. Don’t rely solely on what the person tells you. Search the person’s name and other details the person provides. Conduct an image search of a person’s profile picture. See if it has been used somewhere else. Don’t assume a person is trustworthy just because you met on a legitimate dating website.
• Be wary of relationships that develop very quickly. Be cautious when someone claims to love you soon after you meet online and before you have met in person. As part of the scam, some con artists send gifts or make claims about destiny or fate in order to make their feelings seem legitimate. To help protect yourself, talk to friends and family 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 especially skeptical of requests for money sent via wire transfer, money order, prepaid money cards, cash, or gift cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers.
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.