The FBI says the fraudsters prey on isolation and look for people who are widowed or divorced.By Paul Martino

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – With Valentine’s Day approaching, the FBI is putting out a warning: beware the romantic scammer.

Many relationships formed on websites and chat rooms often turn to be professional fraudsters who are after your money. Just here in western Pennsylvania, tens of millions of dollars have been scammed this way.

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, love is in the air. But the FBI says beware of online romances, especially if they start asking you for money.

Online romances can not only break your heart, they can break your pocketbook too.

“Anyone you’ve met online, it’s a good rule of thumb not to send any money,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Joe Rothrock.

He says more and more people are getting scammed on dating sites, social media sites and chat rooms. The thieves will seek out vulnerable victims.

“Typically, what we see are people that are either divorced, widowed or some other way isolated. And again, these perpetrators prey upon that isolation,” he said.

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It’s a multi-million dollar scam that’s on the rise. The FBI says there were more than 3,600 victims in western Pennsylvania during 2019.

But last year, there were more than 5,700 victims in our area. They handed over more than $20 million dollars to fraudsters. Why are cases rising?

“Maybe the isolation brought on by the global pandemic. Also, there’s an increase in numbers of dating sites, applications, chat rooms and social media sites that allow these fraudsters an opportunity to identify new victims,” said Rothrock.

And they’re really good at it. They take their time and use a well-rehearsed script.

“It may take weeks or months, but ultimately that ask is gonna come. There’s going to be some crisis in their life, an unforeseen tragedy. Whether it be a death in the family or some sort of medical emergency, that’s when they’re gonna ask for money.>

Here’s a good rule of thumb: never give money to someone you haven’t met in person.

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If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your financial institution and the fbi.