SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Romance scams are exploding across the Bay Area, and just in time for Valentine’s Day the FBI has released tips to help you protect yourself. 

New numbers released Friday show that in 2021 there were some 742 victims of romance scams in the 17 counties covered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Francisco division. The victims lost a grand total of $64.8 million. 

Compare that to 2016, when there were only 351 victims of romance scams, losing a collective $8.8 million. 

Santa Clara County was the most popular location for scams, followed by San Francisco and Alameda counties. Victims in Santa Clara County lost $21.8 million.

The FBI is warning that the romance scammers are using new methods. Particularly, they are persuading their victims to send them money to invest or trade in cryptocurrencies. 

“After gaining the confidence and trust of the victim, the scammer then directs the victim to a fraudulent website or application for an investment opportunity,” the FBI stated in a news release. “After the victim has invested an initial amount on the platform and sees an alleged profit, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money. Eventually, the scammer instructs the victim to invest a more considerable amount. When the victim is ready to withdraw funds again, the scammers create reasons why this cannot happen.”

Then, the victim is told either that they need to pay fees or taxes, or that they are below the minimum account balance needed for a withdrawal.

Sometimes these scams can be quite elaborate, replete with fake customer service groups.

At the end of the day, the scammers keep communicating with the victim so long as they continue to send money.

The most-targeted age group are adults over 60, with 193 in the region losing over $18 million last year alone.

The FBI has published a list of tips so you can protect yourself: 

  • “Never send money, trade, or invest per the advice of someone you have solely met online.
  • Do not disclose your current financial status to unknown and untrusted individuals.
  • Do not provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
  • If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that— unbelievable.
  • Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.”

If you believe you are a victim of a romance scam, the FBI recommends reporting the activity to the IC3
at www.ic3.gov and immediately contact your financial institution.