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Avoiding Sweetheart Scams

The Scam

Sweetheart scams, also known as romance scams, are on the rise in the United States. In 2016, almost 15,000 sweetheart scams were reported with losses exceeding $230 million.

A sweetheart scam occurs when a victim is romanced though online dating sites or social media networks, then manipulated into sending funds to fraudsters or giving them account access.

  • Once the fraudster has built a rapport with the victim, they will ask for information such as account numbers or request online access to the victim’s bank accounts.
  • The fraudster will then appear to take steps to deposit funds into the victim’s account through mobile deposit, wire transfer or by check. However, these deposits are often fraudulent. For example, the fraudster may deposit checks that are counterfeit or from a stolen checkbook.

It is common for the fraudster to request that the victim open new accounts at a financial institution to deposit funds.

  • The fraudster will frequently ask for funds to be moved by wire transfer or prepaid card.
  • In money laundering schemes, the fraudster may wire funds (or arrange to have them wired) to the victim's account. Then the fraudster will send that money, or ask the victim to send it, to another party. 
Sweetheart Scams

The Victims

Sweetheart scams affect men and women and typically target:

  • seniors,
  • widows,
  • recent divorcees
  • and those who are lonely and trusting.  

The Criminals

To facilitate this type of scam the fraudster will develop a relationship with an unsuspecting victim through an online website. Personal email, text or instant messaging often is the preferred means of communication.

The fraudster may give many reasons why they are asking for funds or sending funds through the victim’s account. Examples may include, but are definitely not limited to, these pretenses:  

  • To purchase airline tickets
  • To pay officials or bribes for the scammer to leave their country
  • Telephone or internet fees
  • Medical expenses
  • School tuition  

Typically, the fraudster will:

  • Refuse to meet the victim in person or even speak to the victim by telephone.
  • Be quick to declare their love for the victim and will want to move the relationship away from the internet site very early in the relationship.
  • Often indicate they want to continue the relationship with the victim once they are in the U.S. However, the fraudster will always have a reason why they are unable to travel to the U.S., claiming to cancel due to a traumatic event, a bad business deal, etc.
  • Frequently misspell words or use improper grammar.


Protect Yourself

  • Do not share your banking information (including online credentials and passwords) with anyone.
  • Beware of people/businesses who attempt to send you money, especially when they want to send those funds through mobile deposit.


If You are a Victim

  • If you or someone you know is being victimized by a sweetheart scam, please contact your local branch as soon as possible.
  • If you have met a suspicious individual through a dating website, report that person to the website immediately.
  • Consider contacting local law enforcement, if appropriate.