Ahead of Valentine’s Day, AG Platkin Urges New Jerseyans to Beware of Online Scams Using the Promise of Love to Victimize Young and Old

For Immediate Release: February 13, 2024

Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
Division of Consumer Affairs
– Cari Fais, Acting Director
Bureau of Securities
Elizabeth M. Harris, Bureau Chief
Office of Securities Fraud
and Financial Crimes Prosecutions

– Pablo Quiñones, Legal Chief

For Further Information:

Media Inquiries-
Lisa Coryell

TRENTON – With Valentine’s Day approaching, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin warned New Jerseyans to beware of internet scams using the promise of love and romance to financially victimize individuals from young teens to senior citizens.

Citing a nationwide uptick in financially motivated sextortion schemes targeting minors and billions of dollars in losses to victims of romance scams across the country, Attorney General Platkin urged young and old to beware of malicious cupids lurking online.

“The internet is full of predators trolling online sites in search of victims and, unfortunately, people seeking companionship or a romantic connection are among the most vulnerable,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Valentine’s Day provides an excellent opportunity to remind the public to exercise extreme caution when interacting with individuals they meet online. Not everyone is who they seem and the potential risks are great.”

“For many people, social media and internet dating sites provide an opportunity to meet potential partners they might not otherwise cross paths with, but it is important to remain vigilant,” said Cari Fais, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Getting lured in by an internet scammer posing as an online suitor can result in devastating losses that go far beyond a broken heart.”

Last month, the FBI warned about the growing threat of financially motivated sextortion, a crime whereby internet predators trick minors into sending sexually explicit photos and videos, and then blackmail them for payment. Nationwide reports of these crimes increased by at least 20% from October 2022 to March 2023 compared to the same six-month period the previous year. Victims are typically males between the ages of 14 to 17 and offenders are usually located outside the United States, according to the report. These crimes can lead victims to self-harm and suicide, the FBI reported.

For more information on sextortion and financial sextortion, visit the FBI’s resources on the threats at fbi.gov/sextortion and fbi.gov/financialsextortion.

Seniors, too, are falling victim to internet scam artists using the promise of love to lure them in, gain their trust, and financially exploit them. According to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), in 2022, romance scams affected nearly 70,000 consumers nationwide and cost them approximately $1.3 billion. And while dating scams can happen to people of all ages, it’s especially risky for older adults, particularly those in the 55 to 64 age group.

Reports show romance scammers often use dating apps to target people looking for love, but even more common are reports of romance scams that start with unexpected private messages on social media platforms. According to the FTC, in the first six months of 2023, half of people who reported losing money to an online romance scam said it began on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.

These scams often start with a seemingly innocent friend request from a stranger followed by love bombing and the inevitable request for money.

Pablo Quiñones, Legal Chief of New Jersey’s Office of Securities Fraud and Financial Crimes Prosecutions, within the Department of Law and Public Safety, said his office recently obtained a six-year state prison sentence for a Camden County, New Jersey resident convicted in a transnational fraud scheme that used multiple scams—including romance scams—to defraud three individuals of nearly $1.5 million.

“My office is committed to identifying and prosecuting online predators who use lies and phony declarations of love to win the trust of vulnerable individuals and then exploit that trust for financial gain,” said Quiñones. “By raising public awareness of these crimes, we’re helping people protect themselves and preventing future crimes from occurring.”

Romance scammers are skilled at weaving elaborate lies to get money from their victims. According to the FTC reports, the top lie told by scammers in 2022 was that they needed money because a friend or relative was sick, hurt, or in jail. The next most commonly reported lie was that the scammer had great investment advice to share with their newfound romantic interest.

“Romance investment scams are among the fastest growing and most financially devastating types of fraud we’re seeing. Even the savviest of investors have a hard time recognizing fraud when it’s disguised as a legitimate investment opportunity presented by someone they trust and have a romantic interest in,” said Elizabeth M. Harris, Chief of the New Jersey Bureau of Securities, within the Division of Consumer Affairs. “The Bureau has taken action to shut down operators of these cyber scams and will continue to do so to protect New Jersey investors. We’re also working to raise public awareness of these schemes because an educated investor is, by far, the best protection against securities fraud.”

For more information on how to spot and avoid romance scams, visit the FTC’s Consumer Advice page at https://consumer.ftc.gov/romance-scams.


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