Dubbed by the FBI as “Operation Romeo and Juliet”, more Americans of all ages who subscribe to online dating services are being lured into giving their hearts, then convinced to part with their money, said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
“These arrangements only end up in heartbreak,” said Bowdich, who was flanked by officials with the Internal Revenue Service, the state Attorney General’s Office and several investigators with local law enforcement agencies.
Bowdich said anyone can be duped, from older people, to young men who fall for photos of pretty girls, to people in the LGBT community. Unless online dating users recognize the warning signs and come forward quickly, the crimes are hard to stop and the perps difficult to catch.
Bowdich said the FBI is in contact with dating sites but the agency is more interested in educating the public with some advice:
•Do not send money to someone you have not met and have no reason to trust.
•Never provide your personal information, including your bank account information, to someone you do not know or trust.
Online dating schemes are part of several increasing trends online, Bowdich said. Another is called the“Business Email Compromise” or BEC scams where hackers target businesses that typically conduct wire transfers.
“Victims range from large corporations to tech companies to non-profit organizations,” Bowdich explained, and there are all kinds of ways online predators do it. Sometimes, businesses are asked by those who they think are their typical vendors to wire money to an alternate, fraudulent account. Another scam involves mimicking a CEO’s e-mail address, which is then used to fool an employee in the company responsible for processing wire transfers.
From October 2013 through to February of this year, there were more than 17,600 victims amounting to $2.3 billion in losses, according to the FBI. Other scams include fooling human resources staff to e-mail employee W-2’s to a CEO asking for the information. In this case, the CEO’s e-mail has been hacked. Nationwide, 11 companies already have been victimized, five of them in Los Angeles, said Anthony Orlando, acting special agent in charge for the Internal Revenue Service Los Angeles office.