Romance Scams: Don’t get duped looking for love online

PITTSBURGH — You can text them “Sweetheart” or “Honey,” just don’t send them money!

Pennsylvania ranks number five in the U.S. when it comes to people falling for online romance scams. The FBI said they’ve seen an uptick in the number of people sending money or gift cards to people they’ve never met face-to-face.

Rebecca D’Antonio was single, and looking for love when she met somebody she thought was her Mr. Right on an online dating site.

“He made me feel valued. He made me feel heard. He made me feel special,” said D’Antonio.

After just a few “chats” her new boyfriend told D’Antonio he was on a business trip with his five-year old son, and his bank card wouldn’t work. He asked her to send money so he could return home.

Just a couple of hundred at first; but then, the requests continued and the amounts got larger.

“He went into this whole long, what seemed reasonable, explanation of what he did,” said D’Antonio.

D’Antonio said her boyfriend asked her not to tell friends and family that he was “borrowing” money from her. He said he didn’t want to be “embarrassed” when he met them that they had that information.

According to the FBI, these scams are growing. In 2022, there were over 19,000 victims nationwide, who reported losses of over $750 million. The scammers are getting more sophisticated and harder to catch.

“A lot of these subjects that are perpetrating the romance fraud are overseas, so that becomes more challenging in terms of arresting,” said Tammy Mizer, FBI Supervisory Special Agent.

Christopher Maxwell calls himself a “reformed” romance scammer.

The Nigerian native said he spent years scrolling online social media and dating sites and used a pre-set script, or playbook, to convince women to send him tens of thousands of dollars.

Maxwell said he created his fake online account by stealing photos of other people.

“I use military pictures. I go on Instagram. I look for military guys and download pictures on my phone,” said Maxwell, who no longer works as a scammer. Instead, he is a consumer advocate for the investigative agency Social Catfish, a company that verifies online identities using reverse search technology.

Maxwell tells people to do a reverse image search to see if a person’s image matches their name. If a photo comes up on many sites under different names, it’s a scam.

Authorities say the biggest red flag is when a person you’ve never met asks for money. They’ll say there’s a problem with their bank account, they have a medical emergency, or they want to visit you.

Special Agent Mizer said, bottom line, “If you don’t know them, don’t send money.”

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