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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > February 2019 > Five Ways to Avoid Online Romance Scams

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Five Ways to Avoid Online Romance Scams

Valentine’s Day can be a time to seek out that special someone, and con artists know it. Fake online romance, or “sweetheart,” scams are prevalent, so it is important to avoid them and protect your hard-earned money.
Romance scams typically begin when a con artist creates a phony profile on a dating website or on social media to attract unsuspecting victims. Many times, con artists claim to be located in another state or country — pretending to be a military member stationed overseas or a businessman or -woman working in another country. They might even send fake photos or documentation in order to “prove” their identity. The scammer and the soon-to-be victim might spend countless hours communicating before the scammer asks for money – say, for airfare to visit, for hospital fees or other medical costs, to get out of a foreign country or to access an inheritance the scammer promises to share with the victim.

Victims generally are asked to send money using a wire-transfer service, money order, prepaid card, gift card or other hard-to-trace payment method. Once the money is sent, it is nearly impossible to recover. Last year, 70 Ohioans reported losing a collective $3 million to sweetheart scams.

A Franklin County woman was the victim of a multi-year sweetheart scam with a man she had been in contact with by phone. She sent money to multiple people via FedEx, gave the scammer access to her credit card, and even cashed in stocks and bonds to send money to the scammer. The consumer sent a total of $1.2 million to the scammer. 
A Sandusky County woman began an online relationship with a man who claimed to be in the military and stationed outside the United States. He convinced the woman that he wanted to start a business, and she began purchasing items for the business, ultimately sending the scammer $200,000 worth of materials.

Tips to avoid sweetheart scams include: 
  1. Research someone you meet online; do not rely solely on what that person tells you. Conduct internet searches and check with independent sources to verify the person’s claims.
  2. Be cautious of individuals who claim that destiny or fate brought you together or, soon after you meet online, claim to love you. Be especially wary if you have just lost a loved one; many times scammers scour through obituaries to find people who have recently suffered a loss.  
  3. Talk to friends and family members about any online relationships, even if the other person asks you to keep the relationship a secret. 
  4. Don’t send money to someone you have met only online, even if you have developed a relationship with the individual. 
  5. Be very skeptical of requests for money sent via wire transfer, money order, prepaid money cards or gift cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers.
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 1-800-282-0515.