(WKBN) – In 2020, it was reported that $605 million was lost due to romance or confidant scams, according to Vicki Anderson, a special agent for the FBI’s Cleveland division.

These scammers establish a relationship with a person, typically the elderly or widows with money and assets, and end up taking their money.

“From investigators who actually work these types of scams, they say we should actually quadruple that number. That those are just the victims that have reported it to us,” Anderson said.

Some don’t report it because they might be embarrassed or ashamed of the money they’ve lost to scammers, and the scammers are on all of the sites and apps.

“If it sounds too good to be true, if people are asking you for money and you’ve never met this individual, it could be a scam. You just need to have your guard up, you need to ask lots of questions and do your own research,” Anderson said.

She also said if an individual is going to meet someone they met online, that person should meet them in a public place and make sure a friend or loved one knows where they’re going. There have been incidents of physical assault in the past, she said.

As for the cash, once it’s gone, it’s hard for law enforcement to track it down because a lot of scammers are in other countries. They might be able to identify them but can’t bring them to the country to face charges, so the best way to fight it is prevention.

“They know what books you love, they know what hobbies you have, and they just happen to love those things, too,” Anderson said. “They know all the right things to say, and before you know it, they’re in some kind of need for some money.”

Anderson added that they’ve seen people lose their home because they’ve given so much money away.

She also said it’s not a new issue . They’ve been dealing with it since 2015, and the reported amount of money scammed away goes up yearly.

Romance Scams Online
Credit: Vicki Anderson, Special Agent FBI Cleveland Division

“If you have been scammed, or you think someone is trying to scam you, we suggest you notify your financial institution immediately if you’ve done any kind of transaction and to stop that,” she said.

Individuals can also go to the FBI’s internet crime complaint center and file a complaint at www.ic3.gov.

“Between the way our world is going to online dating, and then with the pandemic and people not out and about, it really is increasing dramatically,” Anderson said. “It’s a very sad and a very scary situation, and we’re just trying to prevent that by advising people and educating.”

Anderson said they’ve indicted individuals throughout the country who have indicated that they’re making 100s of thousands of dollars a week through these scams.