Sweetheart Scams

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 is that the victims are usually older widows or widowers, at their most vulnerable following the loss of their life 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 the Sweetheart Scam Works

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 relationship deepens and plans are made to eventually meet.

However, 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.

  • Take the relationship slow and ask many questions along the way.
  • Track down their digital footprint online. Be suspicious if there is none. Be suspicious anyway because 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 else, 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.

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