FBI: Beware of online dating scams around Valentine's Day

COLUMBIA, Mo. - It's a day centered around couples expressing how they feel about each other through gifts and maybe a nice outing.

For those who may be using dating websites or even social media websites to find a Valentine this year, the FBI is warning about multiple scams that have left victims out money and their personal information posted on websites.

And the Cyber Crimes Task Force with the Boone County Sheriff's Department is extending the same warning.

"I think it's a good idea we're talking about it this time of year with Valentine's Day coming up, but we need to be vigilant year-round," said Andy Anderson with the Cyber Crimes Task Force.

In one scam reported to the FBI, suspects pose as a person on a website or social networking site looking to find a match.

Once they find a victim and earn their trust, they get personal information. That information, including their phone number and other data is posted to a website.

In order to have that information removed, victims are told they can make $99 payment, but sometimes that information is not taken down.

Anderson said this new scam is one he hasn't come across yet, but he is seeing another trend.

"What we see a lot of here in mid-Missouri are usually guys, it can be girls, but usually guys who get on the internet and are looking for women who are looking for someone to date and they're vulnerable for a variety of reasons," he said.

When the perpetrators find what they're looking for, the scam is set in motion. The man will often send flowers, gifts or intimate emails and messages.

"After they gain the trust of the woman, they will try to extort money from them in a variety of different ways," Anderson said.

He said a lot of times, the perpetrators will say they need money to come to the U.S. to be with the woman they claim to love after chatting with them online.

And if the woman sends the money, there's a good chance she will never see it again, or the person she sent it to.

"Those are tough investigations to investigate," Anderson said. "Unfortunately, because a lot of them originate outside the United States, the odds of getting money back or even getting a prosecution in a lot of these cases are very slim."

Anderson said online dating scams are not a new concept, but they are growing in number.

He said when using a dating website or meeting people through an online medium, people need to pay close attention to red flag warnings and if they question whether something is wrong, it probably is.

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