Heartache could be the least of your Valentine’s Day woes.
Federal agencies are warning love-seeking consumers to be highly cautious of cyber romance on Feb. 14 as scammers, with the help of artificial intelligence, are running rampant online.
“Valentine’s Day provides a timely reminder for the public to not fall prey to criminals using love to scam their way into their victims’ hearts for monetary gain,” Demetrius Hardeman, acting special agent in charge of the IRS’ criminal investigation branch, told Georgia TV station WALB.
In 2022, nearly 70,000 people were collectively conned out of $1.3 billion from romance scams, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
This year, FBI special agent Brett King is warning that emerging technologies are making these scams — which involve luring a victim into long-distance love before requesting money or expensive things — much more sophisticated.
“What we picture is one lone person doing this whole work,” King told Alabama TV station CBS42.
“No, it’s a whole assembly line of people following a script, and they have really turned it into a science,” he continued. “The way they speak and how they write words now, AI can write a letter from somebody next door.”
A stark uptick in AI-created phonies on dating apps has also been recently observed.
Adding insult to injury, the most vulnerable populations are the people typically targeted, the Department of Homeland Security warns.
“While romance scams can affect anyone, they can have devastating consequences for elderly members of our community,” said Matt Stentz, Homeland Security Investigations Detroit assistant special agent in charge.
However, FTC data shows that since the pandemic began, adults 18 to 29 years old are six times more likely to be caught in romance scams than older people.
Overall, reports of these incidents have increased eightfold since 2020.
Stentz noted that many are “giving away significant portions of their savings,” sometimes repeatedly because they are “under the guise of a relationship.”
The FBI strongly warns individuals to be cautious about what they post online and on social media, as this information often helps a scammer to better profile and target a victim.
The bureau also recommends doing background research on the person’s name and photos to see if they have been used before or elsewhere.
It’s also critical to take things slow, ask lots of questions and be suspicious if the person wants to quickly move away from communicating on an app or social site.
Down the line, another major red flag is if the person continuously makes excuses for why they can’t meet in person.
When private or compromising photos are sent from the victim to a scammer, situations can take an unfortunate turn into a “sextortion” blackmail scam as well, the FBI warns, adding that perpetrators will typically try to isolate victims from close friends and family.
The same warning goes for financial information.
The most common romance scam lies, per the FTC
“I or someone close to me is sick, hurt or in jail.”
“I can teach you how to invest.”
“I’m in the military far away.”
“I need help with an important delivery.”
“We’ve never met, but let’s talk about marriage.”
“I’ve come into some money or gold.”
“I’m on an oil rig or ship.”
“You can trust me with your private pictures.”