DOWNTOWN — The FBI is warning of "romance scams" that can cost victims thousands of dollars for Valentine's Day weekend.
A romance scam typically starts on a dating or social media website, said FBI spokesman Garrett Croon. A victim will talk to someone online for weeks or months and develop a relationship with them, and the other person sometimes even sends gifts like flowers.
The victim and the other person are never able to meet, with the scammer saying they live or work out of the country or canceling when plans are made, Croon said.
Then the scammer will say they need money, citing a sudden hardship like they need a visa or medical care, Croon said.
“And because you think you’re in a relationship with this person, you wire the money to this person as it’s directed overseas,” Croon said.
Victims can be bilked for hundreds or thousands of dollars this way, and Croon said the most common victims are women who are 40-60 years old who might be widowed, divorced or have a disability.
Romance scams cost people in Illinois more than $4.6 million in 2015. Nationally, the scams cost Americans $203 million.
“It’s not uncommon to have someone to walk into FBI Chicago or into a field office in Illinois and report that they have sent thousands of dollars to someone they met online,” Croon said. “And [they] have never even met that person, thinking they were in a relationship with that person.”
If you meet someone online and it seems "too good to be true" and every effort you make to meet that person fails, "watch out," Croon warned. Scammers might send photos from magazines and claim the photo is of them, say they're in love with the victim or claim to be unable to meet because they're a U.S. citizen who is traveling or working out of the country, Croon said.
“Don’t send money to this person,” Croon said. “The chances of recovering your money are extremely slim.”
If you have been scammed, you can go to IC3.gov and file a complaint, Croon said.