A warning for people looking for love online.
The government and Better Business Bureau are warning consumers about an uptick in romance scams, with nearly one billion dollars lost to con artists in recent years.
It's a scam that breaks more than bank accounts. It also breaks hearts.
Mary - who did not want to be identified - says for her, it started with a friend request on Facebook from a man she didn't know. She accepted his request and the two started talking.
“He started telling me he loved me,” she said.
Over time, that so-called love turned into a request for cash.
“I sent him some money for a phone,” she said.
But when he eventually asked for nearly half a million dollars more, she reported him to the FBI.
“I was really disappointed, I felt hurt, I felt stupid,” she said.
Mary isn't alone.
In fact, government data shows romance scams like these are on the rise with 350 million dollars reported lost last year alone.
“Many people look to online dating sites, and social media to meet someone special,” said Steve Bernas of the BBB.
The Better Business Bureau and two government agencies came together to warn consumers about these scams.
Here's how it works:
“Scammers post carefully designed profiles on dating sites, and social media, pretending to be someone looking for a relationship,” Bernas said.
The BBB says scammers work to groom potential victims over weeks or months, building a connection and trust.
And it can happen on any website. but the tipoff to the ripoff is asking for money.
“The scammer will go after anybody that will listen to them, and give them money, and feel that they're their soulmate,” Bernas said.
To verify a potential date isn't scamming you, meet him or her in person. Also, run their profile picture through a search engine like Google - that way, you can see if it pops up on other sites.
If something sounds fishy, tell a trusted friend or family member.
“Do not pay for love,” Bernas said.
The Better Business Bureau estimates that only 10 percent of victims come forward, meaning thousands more could have been scammed.