Police warn of ‘romance scams’ ahead of Valentine’s Day

(Graphic: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Valentine’s Day is a time for love and romance, but like most holidays, it’s also a time when scammers try to take advantage of you.

This holiday though, scammers are not only taking your money, they’re messing with people’s emotions.

Metro police Sgt. Michael Warren told News 2 Romance Scams ramp up this time of the year.

“A lot of times they like to pretend that they’re military or deployed, or that they’re in another country, but they’re looking to come here and they start coming up with excuses that either A)., I need money to relocate there or B)., I’m behind on some bills here,” explained Sgt. Warren.

Sgt. Warren said women are most often the victims in this type of scam. He said it starts online and can take several weeks for the scammer to build trust with their victim.

Sgt. Warren told News 2 the scammer eventually asks for money with, “the promise of ‘I’m eventually going to come there and be with you.’”

In his experience, investigating this type of crime, Sgt. Warren said the victims are typically divorced or widowed. He added there’s a reason for that.

“A lot of these ladies who are middle-aged… [They] might have some money in their savings or their 401K,” he explained.

Warren worked with victims who have lost more than $100,000 in this kind of scam.

The Better Business Bureau advises people to be careful when starting relationships online and to be especially cautious when someone starts asking for money.

READ: BBB Tip: Romance Scams

Another scam Sgt. Warren said has been prevalent so far this year is an extortion scam. Like the Romance Scam, it starts online.

Sgt. Warren said people meet, build a relationship and start exchanging photos, some more suggestive than others. As soon as the scammers get those pictures, they call the victim with a story and a threat.

He explained, “[The victim will] receive a phone call from a male shortly thereafter stating that they’re the father or someone responsible for the female and they put them on notice that, ‘Hey, my daughter is under age, you just committed a crime. If you don’t send me money, I’m going to call the police.’”

Sgt. Warren said the scammers demand anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

“The problem is people pay it thinking it will just go away. The bad guys, we call it milking, they’re not going to stop it. If you send them $200, they’re not going to walk away and say, ‘Fine, I got my $200.’ All you’ve done is show that you are willing to cooperate with their threat so they’re just going to keep coming back for more and more,” said Sgt. Warren.

Sgt. Warren said in January, his office received 10 reports of the extortion scam.

In all of last year, there were 50 reports filed.

Sgt. Warren can’t pinpoint the reason for the increase but said people who engage in online relationships need to be cautious, especially if you’ve never met the person you’re chatting with.