'Sweetheart scam' can leave those seeking love online broke

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - Online dating has grown into a billion dollar industry with people potentially being able to find true love by just "swiping right."

But some who go online looking for that special someone are finding something very different - an empty bank account.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein says from January to December 2017, thieves scammed 75 people out of $2.74 million in something called a "Sweetheart Scam."

"Sweetheart Scams are so sad because they are heartless criminals, general abroad," said Stein. "They find people who are lonely and connect with them on social media."

Stein says once the scammers make the initial contact with their victim, they'll take them off the networking sites and start emailing or texting them.

Over a period of several months, they trick the victim into thinking they're in a relationship then ask them for money.

"They're really master manipulators," said Stein.

In one case out of Raleigh, the victim met the scammer on Facebook just six months after she separated from her husband.

He told her he had a house in California but was working a construction job in London.

The man convinced the victim to sell her house and send him money, promising he would come to the back to the United States and build a life with her.

In all, the woman was duped out of $87,000 and had to live in a hotel.

"Once they gain your confidence, the gain your heart and you're not thinking with your mind and you start living in an imaginary world," said private investigator Michael Guadango.

"Sweetheart Scams" usually pick up around the holidays and tax season, Guadango says.

He says if you meet someone online, you should always have them checked out.

Stein says his office has seen an increase in "Sweetheart Scams" over the years.

So far this year, he says nine victims have lost more than $800,000.

If you do fall for a "Sweetheart Scam" will you be able to get your money back?

Stein says if the victim sent the money through Western Union there is a chance they can get some of it back.

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