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The FBI is advising consumers to be wary when using online dating sites after the agency saw a 70 percent annual increase in reported romance scams. Cybercriminals are reportedly using online dating sites to trick victims into sending money, providing personal and financial information, or even unknowingly acting as a money mule by relaying stolen funds.

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Millions of Americans visit online dating websites every year hoping to find a companion or even a soulmate. These criminals—who also troll social media sites and chat rooms in search of romantic victims—usually claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad. In reality, they often live overseas.

He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is e-mailed to you. For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts.

So you send money There will be more hardships that only you can help alleviate with your financial gifts. So what really happened?

What is a romance scam?

You were targeted by criminals, probably based on personal information you ed on dating or social media sites. The pictures you were sent were most likely phony lifted from other websites.

The profiles were fake as well, carefully crafted to match your interests. In addition to losing your money to someone who had no intention of ever visiting you, you may also have unknowingly taken part in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks and sending the money overseas and by shipping stolen merchandise the forwarded package. In another recently reported dating extortion scam, victims usually met someone on an online dating site and then were asked to move the conversation to a particular social networking site, where the talk often turned intimate.

4 common s of a romance scammer

Before forwarding the complaints to the appropriate agencies, IC3 collates and analyzes the data—looking for common thre that could link complaints together and help identify the culprits. This helps keep everyone safe.

Do not send money through any wire transfer service to someone you met online. The chances of recovering your money are very slim.

One way to steer clear of these criminals altogether is to stick to online dating websites with nationally known reputations. Finally, the FBI advises not to send money through any wire transfer service to someone you met online. If you believe you are the victim of an online dating scam or any Internet facilitated crime, please file a report at www.

An official website of the United States government. Here's how you know.

Official websites use. FBI San Diego.

Is there a law against catfishing online?

Special Agent Davene Butler. February 11, Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of an online dating scam.

updates.

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