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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > February 2017 > Prevent Heartbreak: Steer Clear of Romance Scams

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Prevent Heartbreak: Steer Clear of Romance Scams

As Valentine’s Day approaches, watch out for con artists seeking to profit off Ohioans looking for love. While we all want to find the perfect match, unless you know how romance scams operate, instead of finding real love, your new “sweetheart” may deliver the double doozy of a broken heart and a lighter wallet.

This scam typically begins when a con artist creates a phony profile on a dating website or social media to attract unsuspecting victims. Many times, con artists claim to be located in another state or country — pretending to be an oil rig worker, a military member stationed overseas, or a businessperson working in another country. They may even send forged photos or documentation in order to “prove” their identity. The scammer and the soon-to-be victim may spend countless hours communicating before the scammer asks for money.  

Scammers use various excuses to explain why they need money, such as airfare to visit, hospital fees or medical costs, to get out of a foreign country, or to access an inheritance they promise 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.

In 2016, consumers reported losing an average of $21,000 to sweetheart scams, according to about 60 complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Some consumers reported sending as much as $100,000 or more over the course of months or years.

One Ohioan met a con artist pretending to be a general in the Air Force serving overseas. He convinced her to send a total of $40,000, purportedly to help him receive early release and travel back to the United States.

Another Ohioan became attached to a scammer through a popular dating website, which led to a 15-month relationship. The scammer claimed to be working in the United Kingdom and said he needed money for rent. His first request was for $500, followed by other small-dollar requests. Eventually, he sent a request for more than $15,000 to help fund a business project in Sweden. At that point, the victim realized it was a scam and reported it to her local law enforcement and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. 

Tips to avoid sweetheart scams include:
  • Research someone you meet online; don’t rely solely on what that person tells you. Conduct internet searches and check with independent sources to verify the person’s claims.
  • Be cautious of individuals who claim it was destiny or fate that brought you together or who claim to love you soon after you meet online. 
  • Talk to friends and family members about any online relationships, even if the other person asks you to keep the relationship a secret. 
  • Don’t send money to someone you’ve only met online, even if you have developed a relationship with the individual. 
  • 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.
If you suspect a scam or unfair business practice, report it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by calling 800-282-0515 or visiting