Valentine’s Day is here, and so are romance scams — WTOP asks experts about dodging red flags

Valentine’s Day may be a time for chocolates and sweethearts to some, but scammers are looking for much more than dates with a significant other this year.

For years — no, really — reporters at WTOP and organizations such as the FBI have spent the hours before Valentine’s Day warning listeners of romance scams.


WTOP's Gigi Barnett speaks with Bryan Lewis about the red flags of dating scams ahead of Valentine's Day.

These scams are intended to take advantage of the hundreds of people who navigate apps like Tinder, Hinge, Facebook dating, Grindr, Badoo and Bumble. They happen everywhere and tend to be a lucrative tap or right swipe away.

Moreover, people around the U.S. have spent several months indoors, huddled away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lonely hearts looking for a relationship or two may be enticed to give up any number of things — which is exactly what the FBI says you should avoid.

Romance scammers create fake dating profiles and social media handles to get into a trusting relationship with you. These relationships are then used as a way to steal from victims.

Last year, the total amount of crime complaints totaled over 23,000 and took over $600 million from those who have had their love and trust exploited. (You may already be planning to spend some money anyway this Valentine’s Day. According to the National Retail Federation $23.9 billion dollars of spending is expected on Valentine’s Day alone.)

So what should you be on the lookout for? Identity fraud expert Bryan Lewis with Intellicheck spoke to WTOP’s Gigi Barnett and said that women are more likely to be targeted.

“Unfortunately, they tend to be more vulnerable, they fall for these scams, and, again, they put a lot of their information on these dating sites,” he said.

The pandemic is having a heightened effect on users during the pandemic as victims are reeled into romance and put so much information online, Lewis said.

“It allows people to understand who you are, what you care about and it gives them the ways to target you and basically get to your heart,” he told WTOP.

Luckily Bryan Lewis, the FBI and the Better Business Bureau have a number of red flags listed for Valentine’s Day scammers who may want to tug away at vulnerable heartstrings.


🚩🚩🚩The 3 Red Flags of Romance Scammers🚩🚩🚩
  • Move the relationship way too fast.

The Better Business Bureau says that romance scammers have a way of taking advantage of your heartbreak, establishing a connection and eventually gaining sympathy from a victim. These “catfishers” are likely to talk about a future together, woo you with a quick ‘I love you,’ and may even say that “they’ve never felt this way before.”

While these tropes may do well on the big screen in romantic comedies like “Marry Me,” they rarely work out well for those searching for love in real life.

These same scammers may want to get you to a different messaging app or talk to you over the phone within moments of messaging each other. If you notice these red flags, it’s better to press the unmatch button and try a coffee date instead.

  • Never want to meet in person.

Speaking of coffee dates — you should be wary of the “hot bumble guy” who messages you a lot but never wants to meet.

The BBB says that scammers like to offer up swanky photos, good-looking profiles and tales of financial success to reel you in. But, they say, you need to be real with yourself about who would be genuinely interested in you.

“If they seem ‘too perfect,’ your alarm bells should ring,” the BBB wrote in their article.

The FBI takes it one step further — ever heard of Big T’s lurking services? — and asks lovers to reverse image search photos and profiles online. If you see a bunch of similar profiles, that’s a red flag. They also say that these same suitors may want to isolate you from others, ask you for photos you don’t feel comfortable sending or financial information they can use to extort you.

  • Ask for money.

It may seem like common sense, but you want to avoid giving money to people you meet online and don’t know in person.

The FBI says that you should avoid sharing personal information with scammers and Lewis takes it one step further. He says that you should avoid giving out your personal information and seemingly simple details — they could cost you time and money.

“Just think about the amount of times that somebody sends ‘hey fill this out on Facebook,’ and ‘what’s your first car? what’s your favorite ice cream,” Lewis said. ” …[Most] of those are password questions.”

The BBB adds that these romance scams can lead to impostor websites, fake flower shops and so much more.


So how do we protect ourselves from these scams, especially with Valentine’s Day right around the corner? The BBB, FBI and Lewis all have the same few tips.

  • Never send money or personal information to someone that you haven’t met in person.
  • Ask specific questions about profile details — scammers make up these stories and may stumble while trying to put them together.
  • Commit to reverse image searches, profile searches, look up emails or search for phone numbers.
  • Explain red flags to older family members who may be new to dating or messaging apps.

“Romance scammers profit from exploiting their victims,” the FBI said in a statement. “Once they gain victims’ love and trust, they concoct stories of financial hardships to persuade victims to send them money.

Lewis added that these scams know no demographic boundaries — though targets tend to be older women, widowed or divorced — so it’s important that everyone knows how these scams work and speak out if they’re impacted.

Wayne A. Jacobs, a special agent with the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal and Cyber Division says that romance scammers are “masters of their craft.” That’s why it’s important to speak up if you have been scammed.

“Victims may feel embarrassed, but it’s important to come forward and contact the FBI if you suspect your online admirer is a scammer,” Jacobs said, “so we can help bring them to justice before they break someone else’s heart and bank account.”

If you think your online relationship is a scam, you can file a report with the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) or visit ic3.gov to submit a tip. If you have sent money, the FBI says you should contact your bank as soon as possible.

WTOP’s Gigi Barnett and Matt Small contributed to this report.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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