TDCI reminds Tennesseans to be wary of ‘sweetheart’ scammers


The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI)  is warning Tennesseans ahead of Valentine’s Day to be wary of “sweetheart” scammers – who will break your heart and empty your wallet.

Sweetheart or relationship scams are one of the oldest tricks in scammers’ playbooks, according to TDCI Consumer Affairs, and dating apps and sites have made that trick even easier to swindle from unsuspecting victims just looking for love. 

“Valentine’s Day is a time to show your loved ones how much you care, but it also provides the perfect opportunity for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers by utilizing emotion-provoking scam tactics,” said TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “We urge consumers to be wary of deals that sound too good to be true and individuals who ask for money through online dating sites.”

TDCI says scammers will create fake profiles to attract people, then use emotional tactics to solicit money, usually in this pattern: 

  • You meet someone on a dating site. The person you’re communicating with immediately wants to leave the dating site and start communicating over personal email or IM.  
  • The individual claims love quickly and things turn serious.
  • While the person claims to be from the U.S., he or she also claims to be traveling or working overseas.
  • Scammers play on emotions by making up elaborate stories about needing money for travel mishaps, medical emergencies, missing visas (or other documents) or a temporary financial setback.
  • The scammers will ask for your financial help by wiring them money. The first transfer is small, but it’s followed by requests for more.

“Remember, NEVER send money to someone who is using the above tactics or to someone you’ve never met in person,” TDCI says of the sweetheart scammer pattern. 

TDCI also saying Tennessee is ranked 10th in the nation for fraud. 

Also, the TDCI is advising Tennesseans to avoid falling victim to gift card scams since last year, Tennesseans lost nearly $1 million to gift card scammers.

TDCI says with this other arm of a sweetheart scam for gift card money, scammers will pose as an online love interest or a distant family member faced with a financial bind. Instead of a wire transfer or cash, the scammers will persuade the consumer to purchase gift cards (often iTunes or Google Play) and provide them with the redeemable code on the back of the card.

This method is optimal for scammers because the scam is hard to trace, TDCI says. Consumers who receive a request for payment using iTunes gift cards that they believe may be a scam should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). 

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