COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD)- Every year, millions of people turn to social networking sites and online dating apps in hopes of meeting someone. But instead of finding love, some may find a scammer ready to trick them out of money.

Romance scams can occur when criminal actors deceive victims into believing they are in a trusting relationship and then use that relationship to persuade victims to send money, provide personal information, or purchase gifts for them.

Romance scams have increased by about 50% since 2019. In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that victims nationwide lost more than $281 million to romance scams. South Carolinians reported losses of more than $4.4 million that same year.

Hardest hit by these scams is often those in the 60-79 age group which reported $129 million in losses in 2020. But, romance scams can affect people of all demographics, so the FBI gives warning signs to watch out for:

  1. Immediate attempts to communicate by email or messaging services outside of a dating site
  2. Claims to be from the United States but is currently living or traveling abroad
  3. Claims it was “destiny” or “fate” to be introduced
  4. Reports a sudden personal crisis and pressures the victim to provide financial assistance
  5. Disappears suddenly from the site, but then reappears under a different name
  6. Asks for money, goods, or other financial information without having met in person

Scammers will often use excuses or sob stories to try and get cash. Among the most common are:

  • “I need money for a passport”
  • “I need to purchase leave papers”
  • “I need money for a flight so I can come visit you”
  • “I have been arrested and need money for bail”

These tips could prevent you from falling victim to romance scam:

  • Never send money to someone you meet online, especially by wire transfer.
  • Never give someone your banking or credit card information without first verifying their idenity.
  • Never share your Social Security Number or other personally identifiable inforamtion with someone you have not met.
  • Scammers can use personal details shared on social media and dating sites to better target you so be wary of what you share publicly online.
  • Reverse image-search the person’s photo and profile to see if the name, image, or details have bee nused elsewhere online.
  • Ask lots of questions.

If you think you may be the victim of a romance scam, you should report the activity to Internal Complaint Center and contact your bank if you discover fraudulent or suspicious transactions.