A warning to lonely hearts: a romance scheme is costing people thousands of dollars.
This "Sweetheart Scam" snags people looking for love, and also people trying to sell merchandise online.
"She (the victim) believed she was going to marry a U.S. soldier stationed over in Nigeria," said Ricky Vida, U.S. Postal Inspector.
It starts on the internet. The victim is told her sweetheart is in the middle of divorcing his current wife. He asks if she'd pawn jewelry she would receive in the mail, then wire the money to him in Africa.
"She showed us the text messages she was receiving from her love interest overseas, her Sweetheart," said Vida.
Instead of finding love, the victim found herself caught in a scam. The jewelry sent to her was essentially stolen in an online auction scam.
Here's how it works: someone trying to sell something online gets an email from an interested buyer.
"The email would be a spoof email," said Vida. "It would appear like it is from PayPal. There would be a request for a tracking number, then once I get the tracking number you'll get your money from PayPal. "
The seller goes to the post office and sends the merchandise to get the tracking number, then quickly realizes he or she has been duped.
"The seller wouldn't receive payment or anything and would be out the jewelry or other things they were selling online," said Vida.
Those "goods" are sent to a middle man--like the victim in the Sweetheart Scam--who has no idea the merchandise is part of a rip off scheme.
"The best thing you could do is closely read the email," said Vida. "If there are misspellings in there, if the language doesn't seem right, be aware--it could be a spoof email."
If you have any doubts, don't reply to the email.
Federal officials say the average loss from these romance schemes is between 15 and 20-thousand dollars. That's nearly double what it was a decade ago.
Authorities say never trust someone you've met online until you meet them face to face and confirm they are who they say they are.
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