This Valentine’s Day, make sure a scammer can’t break your heart or your bank account with a sweetheart scam.

We all want to experience love and build relationships. But bad actors who want our money will prey on our needs and desires through sweetheart scams – especially online.

Last year, my office received 46 sweetheart scams reports and people lost more than $2,525,008 to these scammers!

These scams are no joke, so be wary of someone you’ve met online. Sweetheart scammers usually follow similar patterns – they start by befriending you online and reaching out to you through a private message.

Before you respond to anyone online, try to verify who they are and the information they’re sharing. If you don’t know the person, don’t accept their request to connect.

Sweetheart scammers will often move the conversation from an online dating site or social media page to phone chats or email so they can’t be as easily monitored. They usually are upbeat, committed and very interested in you so they can gain your trust.

Be especially alert to someone who tells you they live overseas for work or are a frequent traveler. While the relationship may seem like it is heading in the right direction, after months of grooming their victims, sweetheart scammers will strike.

They’ll claim that they need money for some made up reason:

Airline tickets or travel documents to come to the United States

Bribes that must be paid before they can leave the country

Communication costs like a phone bill or Internet access

School tuition, so they can graduate and come to the U.S.

A “temporary” financial setback

A professional crisis that results in personal losses, like banking, finance or overseas construction projects

Urgent medical expenses

A robbery or a mugging

They make promises to join you so they can start your future together. But once you send the money, they’ll come up with another reason that they need more money.

Once you figure it out, they’ll disappear never to be heard from again. So please be careful with online relationships – the person on the other side of the screen might not be who they say they are.

And if someone ever asks you for money online, it’s usually a scam.

Josh Stein serves as attorney general for North Carolina. 

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