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Photo/logo courtesy El Paso FBI

Local FBI office warns of ‘Romance Scammers;’ El Paso area victims lost $1.6M in 2020

On Wednesday, officials with the FBI’s El Paso office warned residents of the potential heartbreak, embarrassment, and financial loss that some scammers can inflict in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day

“Most often these romance scammers leave victims financially and emotionally devastated. Many victims may not have the ability to recover from the financial loss,” said Luis M. Quesada, special agent in charge of the FBI El Paso Division. “While we recognize that it may be embarrassing for victims to report this type of fraud, it’s important to do so, so that the FBI and our law enforcement partners can do everything in our power to ensure these online imposters are held accountable.”

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), romance scams have resulted in one of the highest amounts of financial losses when compared to other online crimes.

Nationwide in 2020, almost 23,768 complaints categorized as romance scams were reported to the IC3 (4,295 more than the previous year), and the losses associated with those complaints total approximately $605 million. The State of Texas reported 1,602 complaints totally over $42 million.

In the El Paso Division, which includes El Paso, Midland/Odessa and Alpine, 82 complaints were filed with financial losses totaling
approximately $2.3 million.

▪ 62 victims in El Paso reported financial losses totaling $1,688,398.
▪ 13 victims in Midland reported financial losses totaling $217,489.
▪ 7 victims in Alpine reported losing $349,855.

FBI officials add that the reported losses are most likely much higher as many victims are hesitant to report being taken advantage of due to embarrassment, shame, or humiliation.

“The criminals spend hours honing their skills, relying on well-rehearsed scripts that have been used repeatedly and successfully, and sometimes keep journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them,” FBI officials shared.

Bureau officials add that, in some cases, victims may be recruited, unknowingly, to transfer money illegally on behalf of others.

Officials ask that residents use caution when posting online, as scammers can use that information against them, and always assume that con artists are trolling even the most reputable dating and social media sites. They add, if  a romantic relationship develops with someone they meet online, they should consider the following:

▪ Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
▪ Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
▪ Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
▪ Beware if the individual seems too perfect, or quickly asks you to communicate “offline.”
▪ Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family.
▪ Beware if the individual claims to be working and living far away, whether it’s on the other side of the country or overseas.
▪ Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always cancels because of some emergency.
▪ Beware if you’re asked to send inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
▪ Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
▪ Never help anyone move money through your own account or someone else’s. You could become an unwitting money mule for the perpetrator helping to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.

For residents who suspect an online relationship is a scam, they should stop all contact immediately and if they have already sent money, it is extremely important to report any transfer of funds to  their financial institution and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.