Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is warning that more consumers are reporting "sweetheart" or "romance" scams - costly ploys where con artists develop relationships with their victims, usually online, to convince them to send money.
In 2013, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Section received more than 50 complaints involving sweetheart scams, double the number recorded in 2012. Of the more than 50 complaints filed since January 2013, the average reported loss was more than $25,000, with the highest reported loss at $600,000.
"When you meet someone online, you have to be careful," DeWine said. "Some con artists spend months developing relationships with their victims. They may even send gifts or flowers. Eventually, they claim to have some emergency — they're caring for a sick child or they need money for medical costs. If you haven't met the individual in person, don't send money."
In a typical sweetheart scam, the con artist meets the victim online through a dating website or social networking site, communicating through e-mail, instant message, or phone.
The scammer eventually asks the victim to send money to help cover some type of cost, such as airfare to visit the victim, medical expenses, or fees associated with military leave. The scammer often asks the victim to send the money via wire transfer. Once the money is sent, it is nearly impossible to recover.
DeWine offers consumers the following tips to protect themselves:
-Research someone you meet online; don't rely on what that person tells you. Perform Internet searches and consider getting a background check.
-Be cautious of individuals who claim it was destiny or fate that brought you together.
-Talk to friends and family members about online relationships.
-Don't send money to someone you meet online, even if you have developed a relationship.
-Be very skeptical of requests for money sent via wire transfer or prepaid money cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers.