Valentine’s Day is a day for lovers and romance, but also a day for very clever and sophisticated criminals who take victims for over $1 billion a year in romance scams.

KGVO News spoke to Public Affairs Specialist for the FBI Office in Salt Lake City, which covers Montana, about the timely subject of romance scams.

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“What happens in a romance scam is when someone deceives a victim into believing that the two have a trusting relationship, and this could be romantic which it usually is, or whether family or friendly,” said Barker. “The victim is then persuaded to send money personal or financial information or items of value or even to launder money on behalf of the perpetrator.”

We’re not talking about the price of a dinner and a show. These scammers are able to talk their lonely victims out of large sums of money.

“We're finding that victims are losing substantial amounts of money,” she said. “There was one woman who lost half a million dollars to someone she never met. We're hearing about tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars lost. Just in 2021. Victims lost approximately $1 billion to romance scams. So that's quite a big loss, and so we want to make sure that people are aware of what to look for; the red flags so that they don't fall victim to it.”

Barker said lonely older adults can often be lured into online relationships.

“We suggest that if you meet someone online, please research that person,” she said. “Go slowly, ask a lot of questions, especially if this person is jumping into a romantic relationship and declaring their love for you. Be careful about what you post and make public online. If someone attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that can later be used to extort you, beware of that.”

Barker said the shame of being taken advantage of often keeps victims from contacting friends, family or law enforcement agencies for help.

“They say love is blind, so people definitely want to have hope and trust that the person they're talking to is real,” she said. “A lot of times these victims are embarrassed or feel humiliated to come forward, so sometimes family and friends don't even know that this is happening. So, if you have maybe an older family member or relative, ask questions, check in on them, and see what they're doing, especially when it comes to financial information. Then talk to them or maybe call your local FBI office and we could talk to them as well.”

To contact the FBI in Missoula, call 549-7696. Click here for more contact information.


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