Scam Report: Sweetheart Scams

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One of the more popular methods used by scammers to bilk money out of unsuspecting victims is the so-called Sweetheart Scam. What makes this type of fraud especially insidious are its most common victims: older widows or widowers at their most vulnerable following the loss of their partner.

Worse, the swindlers are almost never caught because most of these scams originate from a foreign country. The only real defense you have is to take precautions if you find yourself in a virtual or long-distance relationship with someone.

How Romance Scammers Use the Sweetheart Scam

Most sweetheart scammers follow the same formula. They connect with a victim online, often through dating sites or even by phone. They know how to tug at the heart of a widow or widower to develop a close, intimate relationship from afar. The correspondence deepens and plans are made to eventually meet. At some point the scammer contacts the victim with news of a tragedy, or some emergency requiring financial assistance. Some scammers will start off small, requesting $100 for a bus ride home. The next request will be bigger, maybe $30,000 for a medical emergency, always with the promise to repay the victim. Eventually, the scammer disappears, deleting their email address and phone numbers. 

Preventing Sweetheart Scams

If you become involved in a virtual or long-distance relationship, take every precaution before moving forward. If you’re not careful, you may even become the victim of identity theft.

  • Take the relationship slow and ask many questions along the way.
  • Track down their digital footprint online. Be suspicious if there is none. If you find one, be suspicious anyway–scammers know how to set up fake identities.
  • Ask yourself why this person would be interested in you. Does it make sense?
  • Be very suspicious if the person professes feelings of love.
  • Be suspicious if the person claims to be a U.S. citizen but is unable to meet you in person because they travel frequently or work overseas.
  • Be extremely cautious if they constantly come up with reasons for not being able to meet you in person.
  • Above all, never, ever send money to someone you haven’t met in person.

If you think you are in the midst of a Sweetheart Scam, contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

About This Author


Alpine Bank Staff

Alpine Bank is an independent, employee-owned organization with headquarters in Glenwood Springs and banking offices across Colorado’s Western Slope, mountains and Front Range.

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