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


Ross Bentzler

Ross Bentzler is Executive VP and Information Security Officer for Alpine Bank. Ross has worked in the information technology field for two decades, focusing on information security for 13 years.

More about Ross Bentzler

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