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On Valentine's Day, Attorney General Ellison Warns Minnesotans to Avoid Romance Scams

February 14, 2024 (SAINT PAUL) — Today, Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a warning to Minnesotans about how to avoid romance scams online.

The warning is the first in a series of monthly Scam Stopper alerts that Attorney General Ellison will be issuing to help protect Minnesota consumers from fraud. Click here to view and download the video message from Attorney General Ellison.

"It’s my job to help Minnesotans afford their lives, which means protecting people from the sophisticated scams happening nowadays,” said Attorney General Ellison. “Bad actors can be relentless in trying to trick Minnesotans out of their hard-earned money, and that often takes the form of romance scams. Today, I’m sharing some helpful tips so you can avoid these cons yourself and help protect your loved ones from them. I encourage Minnesotans to stay vigilant, and if you have been the victim of a scam, don't stay silent. That's what the scammers want you to do. Instead, contact my office immediately: we may be able to help you personally, and the information you share could help prevent other Minnesotans from being scammed."

How the Scam Works

Online dating and romance scams often begin like any other online relationship: interested individuals exchange basic information, like their line of work, their city, and their hobbies and interests. These conversations can happen on dating sites and apps, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, or even through email. Con artists may express their “love” quickly and effusively and feign similarities with the victim. They also could take months to slowly and carefully build trust with their intended victim.

This is all a build-up for the scam artist’s real goal: conning a victim out of money. Once the victim becomes attached, the scammer looks for ways to trick the person into sending money. Scammers will either directly ask for money, often by inventing an emergency in their personal life or offering an investment opportunity, or they will ask indirectly by expressing concern about their financial situation or ability to visit the victim in the hopes that a person will offer to send funds.

How It Could Happen

“Maria” signed up for an online dating app and matches with “Andrew,” who claimed to be an American overseas on business in Australia. Maria and Andrew seemed to hit it off and began planning a road trip for that summer when Andrew would come back to the U.S.

Andrew sent Maria a check for $5,000 to cover the cost of their trip, but then suddenly asked her to send $4,500 back to him because he needed money for rent after being laid off from his job. Maria deposited the check and sent the money, but was soon contacted by her bank, which told her the check was bad and she had to repay the $5,000. On top of losing her money, the fake “Andrew” disappeared, and Maria never heard from him again.

How to Protect Yourself

• Don’t send money to someone you have never met in person

The best way to avoid romance scams is to avoid sending money to people you have never met before, especially via methods where the money is generally unrecoverable, like wire transfers, pre-paid debit cards, or mailing cash.

• Be wary of “coincidental” similarities and inconsistencies in an individual’s story

If things don’t add up, press for details and do some research. Google a romantic interest, look them up on other platforms and contact them there, and conduct a reverse image search on their photos. Reverse image searches allow you to see where a particular photo has been posted online. This is helpful since, oftentimes, romance scammers steal real people’s identities. Consider also asking a friend or family member for their perspective. Romance scammers know that emotions can skew judgment and count on affection and attention to thwart their victims’ judgment.

• Be on the lookout for people who are never able to meet in person

Romance scammers often claim to be a U.S. citizen working or serving abroad or give a similar excuse to explain their inability to meet in person.

• Be careful about sharing sensitive information online

Some scammers induce victims to share personal information or images and then threaten to post or distribute them to the victim’s friends, family members, and employers if the victim refuses to pay.

• Once you have discovered a scam, don’t get drawn back in

As a final effort, romance scammers may claim to still be “in love” when they are found out by their victims. Don’t fall for it. Report scammers to the dating website so others won’t be drawn in.

When a Scam Happens to You

It is essential that Minnesotans report scams to the Attorney General’s Office or to law enforcement. Many people feel embarrassed when a scam happens to them, but the truth is that con artists and scammers are often professionals with years of experience. They are good at what they do, and they count on people feeling too embarrassed to protect others by speaking out. If a scam happens to you, the best thing to do is report it right away.

Reporting a Romance Scam

If a romance scam happens to you, there are a few key steps to take:

• Cease all contact and block the scammer’s phone numbers, email addresses, and other methods of communication

• Report the matter to the dating app or website, as well as local law enforcement.

• Keep copies of all communications with the scammer

• Report the matter to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov%20 as well as the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.reportfraud.ftc.gov%20

• File a complaint with the Office of Attorney General Keith Ellison online at http://www.ag.state.mn.us or on the phone at (651) 296-3353 for Twin Cities residents and (800) 657-3787 for people in Greater Minnesota.

For more information, see this publication from the Attorney General’s Office on romance scams.

 

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