CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - This Valentine’s Day, experts are warning you not to let anyone steal more than your heart.
A 19 News investigation reveals scammers are getting people in our state to send them millions of dollars, thinking they found a soulmate.
It’s quite possibly the most emotionally damaging con out there.
We’ve teamed up with the Cuyahoga County Scam squad to explain how to avoid getting caught up in a romance scam.
Like a lot of women would be, Anne Robb was delighted when her new love interest said he didn’t care much about looks.
She met him online. He said his name was Gerald Donovan.
“He just was really nice,” she said. “He was nice and he started talking to me.”
She was even happier when Gerald told her he would become a Christian to date her.
“Yeah, he was calling me from Germany supposedly,” Anne said.
He told her about his job as an architect in Germany and sent her pictures.
“I just laugh about it, because it was a picture of somebody else,” she said.
After helping him send what she thought were donations to an orphanage and money for a knee surgery, Robb realizes her heart was not the only thing this man stole.
He was also stealing her money. Over time, he took around $12,000.
Looking back, she says there were signs of trouble.
“I knew some of them were red flags,” she said. “But, I did it anyway, because I really liked him and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to do it any way it’s going to be OK,’ and it wasn’t OK.”
Victims like Anne may feel alone without a perfect match like Gerald this Valentine’s day, but she’s certainly not alone as a victim of this crime.
According to the Federal Trade Commission consumers lost nearly 40% more money to romance scams last year than the year before.
Here in Ohio, the Attorney General’s office says 57 victims reported a total loss of around $4 million to romance scammers.
Sheryl Harris with the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs says romance scams play out over time.
“It’s a horrible scam,” she said. “It’s the worst I think, because victims really are groomed in a way that they aren’t in other scams.”
Often times the scammer will spend months building trust before asking the victim for money.
“It’s not unusual for a victim who contacts us to have lost tens of thousands of dollars,” Harris said.
So, if you decide you are going to online date, she says you must at least stick to one rule.
“Never, ever, ever, send money to someone you’re dating online, particularly if you have never met that person,” she said.
Anne knows that now
“If somebody really loves you they wouldn’t ask you for money,” she said.
As if the aftermath of a romance scam is not devastating enough for someone to go through, Harris says there are more scammers who will try to swoop in after the damage is done.
Friday night at 11 p.m., we’ll explain how they do it and what you need to look out for.
If you believe you’re a victim of a romance scam, you can report it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
If you live in Cuyahoga County, the county’s department of consumer affairs would also like to hear from you. They can be reached at 216-443-7035.