RIDGWAY – State police are warning local dating and match-making Web site users to protect themselves against “sweetheart scams.”
According to state police, this is a type of romance scam and a common method for thieves to trick strangers into sending them large sums of cash.
“The perpetrator typically preys on the loneliness of their target to quickly build trust,” state police say. “Then, they will solicit money.”
They usually claim the money is necessary to purchase a passport, plane ticket or new computer, etc. They may also claim they have medical bills to pay off.
The majority of sweetheart scam targets are men and women over the age of 60 years old. However, victims have come from other walks of life.
“In many instances, successful, educated people send their life’s savings to someone they have never met because they believe they are in love,” state police say.
“But once that money is sent, it is almost impossible to get back. These scammers typically operate in foreign countries, making it exceedingly difficult to track them down.”
State police say unfortunately, people fail to report these crimes because of embarrassment and shame. It was noted that it’s not enough to stop this flow of cash.
State police added, “Once scammers have gained access to personal or sensitive information, they have been known to continue targeting their victims through blackmail and identity theft.”
State police offer the following tips to prevent you from becoming a victim of sweetheart scams.
- Never wire money to someone if you haven’t met them in person. Many scammers use wire transfer services because the transmissions can be difficult to trace. Other methods include pre-paid credit and gift cards.
- Take it slow. While a new romance is exciting, you should be wary of someone who claims they are “falling in love” after a handful of online conversations.
- Talk to your family and friends. A scammer will likely come up with a reason why the relationship must be kept secret. A trusted friend or relative may be able to offer perspective and spot flags you have missed.
- Do your research. Scammers will often use stolen pictures and information to create their online persona. A simple Internet search may yield multiple profiles with similar photos and information.
- Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t feel right. If you think you’ve been a victim of a sweetheart scam, report it to your local police.
According to the FBI, Americans lost $197 million to romance scams and similar frauds in 2015.
For more information about the state police, visit www.psp.pa.gov.