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Watch out for romance scams as Valentine's Day approaches

Posted at 10:04 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 00:04:50-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Public Safety urges people to watch out for lovers intent on ripping you off instead of taking you out this Valentine’s Day.

For the last seven years, James’ elderly fathers been in love with women he’s met online but never in person.

“Mentally, my dad has been declining for a little bit,” said James.

We are keeping James’ identity anonymous, as his father is the victim of a romance scam.

The women found his 81-year-old father on Facebook, quickly established a relationship and then started asking for money.

“[In the picture] she probably a model who is like 28-years-old and [he’s] saying, ‘Yeah, she’s doing missionary work in Nigeria. Sounds like she might be in a little bit of a pickle, right?’ I was like, ‘Shut it down Dad. This is not real’.”

Despite the family’s best efforts to prevent money transfers, James believes his father sent $70,000 to help out the women he loves while insisting she loves him back.

“There were different stories. The first one was, ‘I need travel expenses.’ Then it was, 'Officials took my passport in this country. They can extort you so I need extortion money’.”

Romance scammers swindled Utahns out of more than $4.5 million dollars in 2019, according to the FBI.

They create attractive online profiles to dupe people looking for companionship and then exploit their vulnerability.

“You’ve got to be really careful as soon as someone starts asking for money. I would say that is the biggest red flag that is out there,” said Utah Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jeffry Plank.

Investigators warn to never send money to someone you haven’t personally met. Take it slow, ask questions and pay attention to inconsistencies. Also, try a reverse-image search of the profile pictures. If details that don’t match up, it’s a scam.

When his father got suspicious of a profile, James says another woman would swoop in to keep him hooked. Despite urging from his family, James’ father still believes the love is real.

“It’s frustrating because like, how many people do you have on the hook like that? You are probably living very well taking these monthly payments from people you’ve conned through the years.”

Help stop scammers by reporting suspicious profiles or messages to the dating app or social media platform. Then, tell the FTC by clicking here.