Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon

Millions of people turn to online dating apps or social networking sites to meet someone. But instead of finding romance, many find a scammer trying to trick them into sending money.

Romance scams reached a record $304 million in losses reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2020. That’s up about 50 percent from 2019.

Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and apps, or contact their targets through popular social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, or dating apps. The scammers strike up a relationship with their targets to build their trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. Then, they make up a story and ask for money.

Scammers ask their targets to pay by wiring money, with reloadable cards or with gift cards because they can get cash quickly and remain anonymous. They also know the transactions are almost impossible to reverse. This is why it’s important to avoid these problems on the front end. Unfortunately, once your money is gone…it’s gone.

Here’s the bottom line: Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person.

If you suspect a romance scam:

  • Stop communicating with the person immediately.
  • Talk to someone you trust, and pay attention if your friends or family say they’re concerned about your new love interest.
  • Do a search for the type of job the person has to see if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer.”

The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring and believable. Con artists are present on most dating and social media sites. Make sure you take steps to avoid them.