CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Looking for love this Valentine’s Day? If you are, the FBI has a warning about so-called romance scams, and they are offering some advice on how those seeking romance can protect their hearts and their wallets.

“The scammers are professionals.” That’s how Brian Jacob, Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI’s Albany Field Office, describes scammers who scour places like dating websites, apps, and chat rooms, building relationships with the goal of accessing people’s financial assets and personal information.

He shared some common red flags: “Someone who is professing love very quickly. You want to be on the lookout for that.” He also says to be suspicious of someone who is unwilling to meet in person. “Because they live on the other side of the world or the other side of the country.” He adds that scammers will ask for small amounts of money at first to test the victim’s willingness and generosity, and then they will start increasing the amount of money that they are requesting over time.

In 2018, NEWS10’s Anya Tucker spoke with a woman who gave more than $12,000 in gift cards to a man she never met and who claimed he was starting an orphanage. It was all part of a “catfishing scam”. Her money was gone long before she discovered he was not who he said he was. “Some would say, ‘Why aren’t alarm bells going off in your mind about this guy?’” asked Anya. “At that moment I wasn’t thinking anything because I believe him,” the catfishing scam victim responded. She told Anya that she felt that she had no one else to talk to.

The FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center reports that more than $700 million was lost to romance scams in 2022. To avoid becoming a target they suggest:

  1. Being careful with what you post or make public online.
  2. If you try online dating, use well known dating sites with good reputations.
  3. The FBI says you can also search people’s photos and profiles online. That way you can see if anyone has pulled the names, images, or information from another dating app or online source.
  4. Never send money to someone you’ve never met in person.

Jacob says if you feel you have been scammed, report it immediately to your financial institution and the authorities. “If they report quickly, there’s a good chance they can get their money back. Reporting quickly is everything when it comes to getting your money returned to you,” he added.

The FBI’s full alert can be found on its website.

NEWS10’s Stephanie Rivas sat down with Tina Pickup, Vice President of Security and Fraud investigations at Berkshire Bank, to discuss the red flags to recognize scammers and how banks are taking action.