COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – The FBI Columbia Field Office issued a warning for people to be cautious of potential romance scams approaching Valentine’s Day.

The FBI said that it is likely scammers will exploit individuals online who may be looking for companionship or romance this time of year.

“People are putting a lot of information about themselves online,” said FBI Columbia Office spokesperson Kevin Wheeler. “That makes it very easy for these scammers to do their research on you, to try to connect with you and build a relationship with you.” 

Recent data reported in the 2021 Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) annual report showed that South Carolinians lost $6.8 million dollars to confidence fraud and romance scams that year.

 “It’s very important that you don’t send any money to someone that you have never met in person. It can be difficult to get that money back if you don’t have the proper institutional protections with your bank,” said Wheeler.

The 2022 data has not been released, it is expected there will be increased reported losses due to recent upward trends.

“Cyber criminals use any information they can find about you to gain your trust, build a relationship, and ultimately steal your money or personal identifiable information (PII),” said Susan Ferensic, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Columbia Division. “We want the public to be well informed about how these scams occur and how they can better protect themselves.”

The following are examples of common red flags of romance scams, as well as tips to better protect yourself.

Common Romance Scam Red Flags:

  • The scammer makes promises to meet in person but gives excuses as to why they can’t.
  • The scammer will ask for money once they gain your trust. Typically, they explain they have an owed debt, need financial assistance, or ask for travel funds.
  • The scammer will request money through methods that make it hard to be traced and hard to get back.
  • The scammer may ask to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Be careful what you post and make public online.
  • If you suspect a scam, stop communicating with the person immediately.
  • Conduct a reverse image search of the person’s photo(s). If it is associated with another name or profile, it is likely a scam.
  • Take things slow and ask a lot of questions.
  • Never send money to someone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

If you suspect you are involved in a romance scam or you have fallen victim, report the incident to the FBI’s IC3 by clicking here.