HARRISBURG, PA (STL.News) On Valentine’s Day, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is warning Pennsylvanians of romance scammers who entice people into online relationships, then ask for money and scam them. Online romance scams, commonly known as “catfishing,” are increasingly taking place in Pennsylvania and across the United States.
“Scam artists are always trying new ways to cheat people out of their hard-earned money,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “These criminals use every online ruse imaginable to get people to let their guard down and steal their money or personal information — including tricking them into believing they are in love. We’ve seen Pennsylvanians seeking relationships online lose more than $100,000 to these catfishing scams. Don’t let scammers steal your money or your heart this Valentine’s Day.”
Two Pennsylvanians who were harmed in online romance scams and who filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection are telling their stories to help other state residents avoid being hurt.
Peggy Cimorelli, of Skippack, Montgomery County, was victimized by a romance scam artist.
“I was communicating with a man online and over the phone for two and a half years,” Cimorelli said. “He told me he was a car dealer and that he traveled a lot for work. He asked me for money for hotel rooms, plane tickets and gift cards. Ultimately, he scammed me out of more than $49,000. I am 72 years old. I hope that sharing my story will help prevent even one woman like myself from being scammed.”
Another local scam victim, Doris Orta, of Bethlehem, had a specific message for seniors seeking love online.
“I am 78 years old and have been alone for 26 years,” Orta said. “The first time I used a dating site, I met someone who I thought I could trust with all of my personal information. He scammed me out of $5,300. I am outraged that someone would take advantage of me this way. I thank Attorney General Shapiro and the Bureau of Consumer Protection for taking my claim so seriously and stepping up to protect consumers like myself.”
Since Attorney General Shapiro took office one year ago, his Bureau of Consumer Protection has received at least a dozen complaints related to online romance scams. The Bureau of Consumer Protection believes most victims are too embarrassed and hurt to come forward after they’ve been scammed to file complaints, and Attorney General Shapiro is urging Pennsylvanians to contact his Bureau of Consumer Protection to investigate their cases.
“I want to hear from you if you’ve been hurt by an online romance scam,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Pennsylvanians who believe they’ve been victimized should email us at email@example.com or call my Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555.”
The FBI reports that online romance scam victims lost $220 million in 2016, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that thousands of people fall victim to such scams each year. Many scammers claim they are out of the country due to military service or business, the FTC says.
Attorney General Shapiro and the Bureau of Consumer Protection have tips for people to consider before pursuing relationships online. Be wary if the person they meet online:
- Wants to leave the dating site immediately in favor of personal email or instant messaging.
- Claims love or want a serious online relationship – too quickly.
- Makes excuses not to video chat.
- Says they are from the United States, but that they are traveling or working overseas.
- Contacts you from inconsistent phone numbers, email addresses or online profiles.
- Plans a visit, but is prevented from travelling due to a traumatic event or work conflict.
- Changes his or her story or history frequently.
Attorney General Shapiro cautioned consumers not to wire, send or deposit money or gift cards for:
- Medical emergencies
- Phones or pre-paid calling cards
- Hotel bills
- A recent mugging or crime
- Visas or other official documents
- Losses from a financial setback.
Victims can report a romance scammer to the Office of Attorney General , the online dating website where you met, the Federal Trade Commission or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.