Wisconsinites lost millions of dollars to romance scams since the pandemic

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Ahead of Valentine's Day, federal and state officials are warning singles about romance scams.

Recent FBI data shows that Wisconsinites have lost more than $5 million dollars to romance scams since the pandemic. Experts say more people are seeking social and emotional connection after being isolated. "We saw a lot of romance scams increase amazingly due to and because of COVID," said Lisa Schiller, Director of Investigations for Wisconsin's Better Business Bureau.

The BBB tracks scams nationwide and Schiller says romance scams have been on their radar for some time.

"There are a couple of different types of romance scams," said Schiller.

The most common is when a scammer targets someone vulnerable. This could be someone who has recently experienced a breakup or loss of some kind. The scammer's goal is to take advantage of the victims and trick them into giving up their trust and their money.

"Eventually, sometime sooner than later, they will get to the point where they know they have the victim hooked…they're already attached and now is the time to hit them with whatever the reason they need money. Somebody in the family needs emergency surgery or something happened to them. Something that will tug at their heart strings," said Schiller.

Schiller says romance scams in particular often go unreported because many victims are embarrassed to speak up. "There's a lot of shame involved," she said. Anyone can become a victim but older women are a common target in romance scams.

"Older populations generally are a little more vulnerable to these scams because it goes back to the looking for connection element. A lot of the times they're just less connected to their family or have fewer friends they can connect with," said Courtney Anclam, Senior Program Specialist with AARP Wisconsin.

Anclam says it's important to look out for your older loved ones to keep them from becoming a victim. "They may be less tech savvy, so they're less aware of the warning signs to look for and how to navigate and investigate those type of red flags," she said.

Both AARP and the BBB stress the importance of reporting these incidents if they do occur. "One thing we see a lot is that there's a feeling of shame and embarrassment after the fact and people should just know that these scammers, this is their job to find people and to extort them…that's all they do is just try to get very close to you so people should never feel like it's their fault. They've been taken advantage of by professional criminals," said Anclam.

The BBB encourages victims to report the incident to the BBB Scam Tracker at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/.

Schiller says while it may be uncomfortable, filing a report with the BBB and local authorities, if money was lost, is the only way line of defense against scam artists.

Avoiding Romance Scams:

•Ask questions about details given in online profile

•Be cautious of someone who won't meet in person

•Never send money or personal information

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