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Cleveland woman issues Valentine's Day romance scam warning

Security experts warn romance scams are climbing
CLE woman issues a Valentine's Day romance scam warning
Posted at 10:39 PM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 23:11:57-05

CLEVELAND — Jessie St. Christopher of Cleveland thought she may have met "Mr. Right," while using the Plenty of Fish dating website, but her hopes quickly crashed after she discovered her date was trying to turn her into a romance scam victim.

St. Christopher said that at first her online date "Steve" seemed very easy to talk to, but after about a week of constant conversation, his stories kept changing and he started asking her for thousands of dollars to help with a wide variety of "emergency situations."

“The first red flag was he fell in love with me, how can you fall in love someone you can’t see face-to-face?" St. Christopher said. “Then about a week later he said he needed money.”

That was a red flag St. Christopher couldn't ignore.

"He asked me to wire him $5,000 to help make emergency repairs to his work equipment, then he said his daughter desperately needed tuition money. His daughter was about to be kicked out of school and she had nowhere to go. Then, his car wasn’t doing well, it need a new fan belt, so just every little thing he could think of,” she said.

Fortunately, St. Christopher didn't give out any of her hard earned money and blocked "Steve" from communicating with her any further.

But both the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission report that there are thousands here in the U.S. who are not so lucky.

The FTC reports victim's losses have exploded in the past five years, with $87 million in losses in 2017, growing to $547 million in losses in 2021.

David McClellan, CEO and Founder of SocialCatfish.com, which has provided online dating safety and identity verification for the past eight years, said the fastest growing group of victims are millennials.

"We have to do a better job and educate that generation, because they’re growing up over-confident and they’re actually falling for scams at a faster rate," McClellan said. “We’ve also seen a huge increase in scams coming from TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Google Hangouts. The victim on average will lose anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 dollars.”

Alex Hamerstone with TrustedSec, works as an Advisory Solutions Director for the Strongsville/Cleveland based information security company.

“Scammers really pray on emotion, and who is more emotional than someone who is looking for love?" Hamerstone said. “The scammer will often try to get you off the original platform as quickly as possible because these large dating sites will often times have a lot of protections...They don’t want you on that dating platform, they want to talk to you through text messaging, or some other social media platform so they don’t have to be subject to some of these protections that these dating sites have.”

Ericka Dilworth of Cleveland Better Business Bureau Director of Operations said those who want to use online dating sites must do their homework.

“What kind of information are you texting, what kind of information are you sharing on your profile?" Dilworth said. "Don't give money to someone you've never even met in person. You need to do a little research on the dating website—what are people saying about the website, have their been problems with the website?”

Meanwhile, St. Christopher has some final words of wisdom for those who are online dating or are thinking about starting.

“If they don’t want to meet you within a week or two, it’s a red flag," St. Christopher said. "It means they’re not in the area, they’re calling from somewhere, Lord knows where...But learn to love yourself so you can become wise and see who these people are when they start knocking on your door."