Sweetheart Scammers Stole $18 Million from North Carolinians Last Year. Here’s How They Did It.

So-called "sweetheart" scammers bilked North Carolinians out of about $18 million last year. Here's how to spot the scammers before they nab you. (Shutterstock)

By Leah Sherrell

May 10, 2023

Dating can be hard. Harder still when your new boo is trying to empty your bank accounts. Watch out for these dating scams the next time you swipe right. 

If you haven’t watched The Tinder Swindler on Netflix I recommend finding some snacks, getting under a blanket, and watching the absolutely surreal story of a man who scammed his victims out of at least $10 million dollars. All of which were stolen under the guise of love. 

While romance scams aren’t usually as elaborate as fake passports and chartering private yachts, they’re still dangerous and can wreak havoc on your finances. 

According to Social Catfish, an online service where you can verify your date’s identity, there were 422 victims of romance scams in North Carolina last year. On average, North Carolina victims were conned out of $42,752, and the scammers got away with a total of $18 million. That makes our state number 9 out of 50 for the most “Money Lost to Romance Scams in 2022”. A 4% increase since 2021. 

Graph by Social Catfish
Graph by Social Catfish

What is a Romance Scam? 

The FBI defines a romance scammer as someone who lies about their identity online and then quickly establishes a close relationship with their potential victim. In order to get their victim to trust them they will seem caring, genuine, and even infatuated with that person. Within a short time frame they could string along the idea of building a future, or getting married, and then they will eventually ask for money. 

This may seem like an easy to spot tactic, but the FBI makes it clear that these people are very good at what they do. They manipulate people for a living and $18 million in one state in one year proves it. 

How to Spot a Romance Scammer:

Graph by Federal Trade Commission

  • According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are scammers on most online dating and social media platforms. You may be looking for love and fall into a trap, or you could receive an unexpected message from someone with ill intent. 
  • The con artists will often create a fake job that makes it easier to convince their victim to send them money while also providing a reason that they can’t meet in person.  
  • Some of the most common lies are that they are overseas on a business project or in the military, giving them an easy segue into asking for money to cover “medical expenses” or getting them out of unexpected trouble.  

Examples: 

Military

Business Overseas

Construction Industry

Offshore Oil Rig Worker

Celebrity or Social Media Influencer

  • Claiming they made it big by investing in cryptocurrency is a common lie. They will tell you they want to help you make money, have you send them some to “invest” but keep it for themselves. 
  • Be careful of sending explicit pictures to anyone – in romance scams they are often used to extort money from the victim. 
  • Romance scammers will most often ask you to send money via gift card but the most costly losses are through cryptocurrency or bank wire transfers. 
Table by the Federal Trade Commission

What to Do If You’re the Victim of a Romance Scam: 

Report it to your local law enforcement agency, the Federal Trade Commission, and if you are being extorted go to the FBI. 

Alert the social media site where they contacted you. 

If you paid the scammer through a wire transfer, gift card, credit or debit card, or crypto currency, contact your bank or the company and ask for a refund. 

Protect your identity by changing your passwords and setting up two-factor authentication for online accounts. Secure and monitor your bank accounts and credit. 

Be cautious of future scams. The person who scammed you or their network may approach you in a different way. 

Author

  • Leah Sherrell

    Leah Sherrell is a multimedia reporter for Cardinal & Pine. A graduate of UNC-Wilmington, she's a resident of Kernersville with a background in video production and communication. Leah uses many forms of media to explore the multifaceted lifestyles and cultures present in North Carolina.

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