With flower bouquets and heart balloons crowding the entrance to your local grocery store, you can practically feel love in the air.

But Valentine’s Day is not all roses and chocolate for the nearly 70,000 U.S. citizens who, according to the Federal Trade Commission, lost a combined $1.3 billion to romance scams in 2022.

The online scams, which increased during the pandemic, have historically targeted well-educated, middle-aged women. However, a new ‘sextortion’ trend is also on the rise among those 18-29, according to the FTC.

Sextortion is where the romance scammer builds a deep relationship, encourages their target to send them explicit photos, and then blackmails them by threatening to send the images to their contacts.

If you think you may be a victim of a romance scam, avoid sending any additional funds and file a report
If you think you may be a victim of a romance scam, avoid sending any additional funds and file a report with the police and the FTC.

So how can you know if the person you’re falling for is the real deal?

Bay Federal Credit Union, a local not-for-profit with the mission of making a difference in the financial lives of its members and the community, offers this quick list of warning signs:

First, ask yourself:

  • Have you only connected with the person online?
  • Does your connection seem perfect, ideal, or even too good to be true?
  • Do you feel you should keep your new relationship a secret for any reason?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, proceed with extreme caution. Chances are that something isn’t quite right.

Look out for these Common Claims:

  • I (or someone close to me) is sick, hurt, or in jail.
  • I can teach you how to invest.
  • I’m in the military far away.
  • I need help with an important delivery.
  • We’ve never met, but let’s talk about marriage.
  • I’ve come into some money (or gold).
  • I’m on an oil rig (or a ship).
  • You can trust me with your private pictures.

It can also help to learn how romance scammers operate.

Like many of us, scammers go to work, only their full-time job is to cheat people out of their money. They are deeply invested in making the connection feel as real as possible, no matter how long it takes.

Know how scammers operate:

  • Social media is their favorite way to make first contact.
  • After first contact, they are known to transition from social media to other messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, GoogleChat, or Telegram.
  • They are experts at long cons and often won’t request money for many months, if at all.
  • If sending money is involved, they may guide you so it seems like it was your idea.
  • Many scammers prefer gift cards, cryptocurrency, or wire transfers.

So what should you do if you think you may be a victim of this common scam? Understand that feelings of disbelief, denial, embarrassment, and shame are completely normal.

Because of these intense emotions, many romance scams go unreported, but you are not powerless.

A few key steps can help keep your money safe and aid law enforcement in prosecution.

What to Do if You Think You May Have Been a Victim:

  • Vet your romantic connection on BeenVerified.com.
  • If possible, put a stop on any fund transfers in progress.
  • If you shared any private bank account information, alert your financial institution immediately.
  • Avoid sending any additional funds.
  • File a report with the police.
  • File a report with the District Attorney’s Office.
  • File a report with the FTC.

About Bay Federal Credit Union

Bay Federal Credit Union is a full-service, not-for-profit financial institution that serves over 80,000 members and 2,400 local businesses throughout Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties. With more than $1.6 billion in assets, Bay Federal is the largest member-owned financial institution in Santa Cruz County, serving its members and the community since 1957. Bay Federal is a certified Community Development Financial Institution, with a primary mission of promoting community development alongside their financial activities. Bay Federal has an award-winning employee volunteer program in which employees have given their own money and volunteer for numerous local schools, nonprofit organizations, and community events each year.

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