Beware of romance schemes around Valentine’s Day, FBI warns

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FILE – In this July 5, 2015, file photo, a man uses the dating app Tinder in New Delhi. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal, File)

HILLSBOROUGH CO., Fla (WFLA) – Law enforcement officials are warning the public about romance schemes ahead of the year’s most romantic holiday.

New data from the FBI’s 2019 Internet Crime Report shows that Tampa Bay is becoming a prime target for illegal schemes – with romance fraud being one of the crimes with the most reported losses.

Nationally, 19,473 people were victims of alleged romance plots. The victims lost more than $200 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Officials say a romance scheme is when someone strikes up a relationship with their targets through social media or dating apps to build their trust. They eventually ask for money – claiming to need it for everything from medical expenses to traveling costs.

Distracted Driving Crashes 2015

Romance schemes in tampa bay

Here’s a look at how many people in some local counties were victims of romance schemes over the last two years. Hover over the bar to see the exact numbers.

Number of victims

Total victim losses in dollars

Source: FBI-Tampa

Statewide, at least 1,363 victims reportedly lost $43,500,838 last year.

In Hillsborough County, the numbers are alarming.

The county had 25 victims report romance fraud to the FBI in 2018 with a collective $277,085 lost. Last year, however, those numbers increased to 30 victims losing just over $1,266,126.

In Sarasota, the increase within the last two years is even more dramatic. Only 9 victims reported total losses of $9,471.96 in 2018. In 2019 though, Sarasota had 26 victims report more than $1,213,201 in losses to the FBI.

If you think you’ve been a victim of a romance scheme, both the FTC and the FBI recommend filing a complaint with each respective agency.

“Public awareness is key to putting these online fraudsters out of business,” Andrea Aprea from FBI Tampa said. “Please remind your viewers that if they suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately.”

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