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February 14, 2017

Pennsylvania State Police warn of 'sweetheart scams' on Valentine's Day

If you happen to be single on Valentine's Day and you aren't thrilled about it, the Pennsylvania State Police are here to remind you that acting out of desperation can be a costly mistake.

Authorities are warning residents to avoid falling victim to "sweetheart scams" that seek to exploit the loneliness of those in search of love.

"Also referred to as a romance scam, the sweetheart scam is a common way for thieves to trick strangers into sending them large amounts of cash," State Police said in a release.

Perpetrators of such crimes are said to quickly build the trust of their susceptible victims and then solicit money, often claiming to need it for a plane ticket, medical bills, a new computer or another pricey item.

In most cases, the victims of sweetheart crimes are men and women over the age of 60, but police said it can happen to anyone. FBI statistics from 2015 show that Americans lost $197 million to romance scams and similar frauds that year.

“We’ve seen successful, educated people send their life’s savings to someone they had never met in person because they thought they were in love,” said Major David Relph, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “And once that money is sent, it is almost impossible to get it back. These scammers typically operate in foreign countries, making it exceedingly difficult to track them down.”

Police have advised residents to make sure they take new romance slowly, particularly when found through online dating sites, and never wire money to a person who hasn't first been met in person. If you suspect you're being targeted in a romance scam, check with friends and family, research any photos provided by the potential scammer and don't hesitate to contact authorities.

“People fail to report these types of crimes because they are embarrassed or ashamed, but simply stopping the flow of cash isn’t enough,” said Major Relph. “Once they have gained access to personal or sensitive information, scammers have been known to continue targeting their victims through blackmail and identity theft.”