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FBI: Romance scammers made $20M off unsuspecting victims in Illinois in a year

FILE - The icon for the Tinder dating app appears on a device on July 28, 2020.
Patrick Sison
AP file
David Nanz, special agent in charge of the FBI Springfield Field Office, said that online scams are becoming more common due to the easy access of the internet and various social media websites.

Hundreds of Illinoisans fall victim to online romance scams every year.

While the numbers for 2022 are still being calculated, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center preliminary results show a reported victim loss of $739 million, impacting 19,000 victims. In Illinois, the FBI reported 591 victims in 2021, the last year data was available. The reported losses reached $19.8 million.

Scammers often use scripts and target victims by creating a persona that reflects a successful businessman or a young, beautiful woman, according to David Nanz, special agent in charge of the FBI Springfield Field Office.

Nanz said after building trust and a relationship, the scammer attacks. Then they come up with various excuses to ask for money.

David Nanz
David Nanz

“There’s a couple different common ways that they do it,” Nanz said. “One of which is to claim that they have a sick relative in the hospital who doesn’t have health insurance. Another way is someone reporting to be a successful businessman, perhaps in Switzerland, and he’s lost his wallet during a business trip.”

Victims are typically asked to wire transfer money to the perpetrator or to purchase gift cards and send the card information.

“From the perpetrator’s standpoint, they can target 100 people and if they only get five or 10 to bite on their scam, they’ve still made their money,” Nanz said.

Nanz said that online scams are becoming more common due to the easy access of the internet and various social media websites.

“More and more people are turning to dating apps, and other online platforms as social media grows in popularity and usage and there’s no shortage of the scammers,” Nanz said. “I think we’ve seen an increase, not only in the romance scams, but other types of scans that are done through the internet.”

While scammers can target anyone, Nanz said that senior citizens are targeted most due to being seen as vulnerable. He said the number of romance scams is likely underreported because some victims may be too embarrassed to report it to police.

Some red flags to be aware of are the perpetrator professing love and moving too quickly, avoiding meeting in-person and video calls and asking the victim to send money.

FBI Springfield suggests the following to avoid becoming a victim.

  • Ask thorough questions.
  • Never share any personal information, such as a Social Security Number.
  • Research the individual’s photos using online search tools.
  • Be cautious with what you post online as scammers can use details to better understand and target their victims.
  • Proceed with caution if planning to meet someone online, especially when traveling to a foreign country.

Nanz said that due to the majority of perpetrators being overseas, arrests can be difficult, but not impossible.
Nanz encourages those who believe they may be getting scammed to immediately cut all communication and contact FBI Springfield at (217) 522-9675.

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Megan Spoerlein is a reporting intern at WGLT. She started in 2023. Megan is also studying journalism at Illinois State University.