13 Investigates: Victims lost $220 million to romance scams last year

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Love is in the air, and online.

More singles are using dating sites these days to search for a mate.

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At the same time, millions of dollars are lost each year to romance scams.

13 Investigates has one local woman's story and tips to keep you from becoming a victim.

Pam Harriman went looking for love to fill the void after becoming a single empty nester.

Online dating seemed a safe choice.

It wasn't long before she thought she had found the perfect match.

"He sent me pictures of his house supposedly here in Indianapolis, pictures inside the house," Harriman told 13 Investigates. "I mean he went the whole nine yards to put on a front," she added.

Harriman's love interest quickly got her to leave the dating site and to share her private email with him.

She now remembers conversations that should have signaled trouble.

"He was asking me what stocks I had and I said, 'Well that's a strange question. Why would you want to know that?' " she recalled.

For 3 months the two planned to meet but never did.

Then one day he told her he was stuck in Malaysia and couldn't access his bank account. He needed $2,600 and wanted her help.

"He said, 'Ok, can you wire me some money?' And unfortunately I was stupid enough to do that," she admitted.

Three weeks later, he wrote Pam to say he had been detained and needed $10,000 to pay taxes before he could return to the U.S.

This time Pam not only refused but revealed her suspicion.

"I don't think you are who you say you are and you took my money and I know you're not going to pay it back. He said, 'Well you're pretty stupid for trusting somebody you haven't met,' she said recalling the sting of his words.

Pam was heartbroken and out of thousands of dollars. She was the victim of a cruel online dating scam.

I thought 'this was somebody that cared about me that really didn't,'" she told 13 Investigates. "I was extremely angry. I was very angry," she said.

The same scam is playing out and impacting women all across the country.

How big of a problem is it? Consider this: In 2016, women nationwide lost $220 million dollars to online dating scams. That's nearly four times the amount lost in 2012. Here in Indiana, the FBI White Collar Crime Division is seeing five to six cases a month.

"We recently had a victim that lost over $250-thousand dollars," said Special Agent Doug Kasper. "The most common age group that I see is anywhere from 50 to 65 (years old) and typically 99% of the time it's a female," Kasper revealed.

Special Agent Doug Kasper with the FBI warns women to be aware of how it happens.

Don’t become a Victim:

Research the person’s photo and profile. Check if picture or text used elsewhere.

Beware of attempts to isolate you from friends, family.

Never send money to someone you don’t know personally.

Beware if promises to meet in person always fall through.

"You should never send money to someone that is not a personal friend," said Kasper.

(The scammers) promise that they're going to meet over and over again, but that never happens, that's a huge red flag," he explained.

Pam Harriman says she never wants another woman to suffer an online dating scam.

She says she's living proof of what can go wrong, and right when looking for love.

"I'm sitting next to my husband," she says breaking out in laughter alongside Nick Harriman.

If you suspect a scam, report it to:

FTC

FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

The internet dating site

She met him on another dating site years after she lost money to a dating scam. They say they're happy and just celebrated their first anniversary last December.

The FBI and Federal Trade Commission say time is of the essence when reporting online dating scams.

In 2016, the FBI logged 15,000 complaints. That's triple the number since 2012.

The FBI says taking time to review tips could save you both heartache and money.

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