Recently, we have seen an uptick in sweetheart scams, also known as romance scams. Some of our members have been tricked into accepting bogus checks or allowing ACH deposits to their accounts, and then sending money to scammers before Metro is notified that the deposits are fraudulent. The other more concerning cases have involved members being convinced to give these criminals their online banking logins, allowing the scammers to commit all sorts of theft and fraud. Unfortunately, the member is left dealing with the unrecoverable theft of their money, and an online relationship they believed was genuine. 

What is a romance scam? 

A romance scam is 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 steal from the victim.  This grift can go on for months before the theft occurs, with the scammer sharing photos, talking on the phone, but never meeting in person.  As reported by the FBI a record $1 billion was reported lost by over 24,000 victims of romance scams in 2021.

How do romance scams work? 

Romance scams often originate through online dating sites or apps, however victims are also targeted through social media sites like Facebook. The scammer will engage in ongoing conversation for as long as it takes to make the victim feel comfortable and confident in their "relationship". 

Then the scammer will present a story or reason why they need money, such as emergency surgery, or being unable to pay for travel to finally meet in person. Scammers often pose as someone living outside of the country, often for work or military duty. They will ask for money to be wired to them or loaded onto gift cards. More recently, they are asking for the victim's online banking login, stating this will make it easier to send them money, when in fact it opens the victim up to all sorts of theft and fraud, which cannot be reversed. 

How to protect yourself? 

The bottom line is to never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven't met in person, and never share your online banking logins. In addition, learning to spot the red flags of romance scams will ensure that your search for companionship doesn't lead to the theft so many people experience year after year. 

Red Flags: 

  • Temporarily living internationally
  • Fast developing relationship
  • Attempts to isolate you from friends and family
  • Repeated broken promises to meet in person
  • Requests your financial information

For more information on romance scams, how to spot them, and who to report them to, click here to read a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission.