Valentine’s Day Shines Light on Romance Scams

SACRAMENTO -- "We met in college actually. It's also our five year anniversary," said Rebecca Hicks of Sacramento as she smiled at her boyfriend Jacob Maxwell.

They found love the old fashioned way.

Debbie DeMarco and Quinton Bennett of Elk Grove went modern.

Their love story started online with the app 'Meet Mindful.'

"It's spiritual -- a little more nice," said Bennett.

"Meditation, yoga, dancing," said DeMarco.

This couple allowed themselves to get caught up in the World Wide Web in their search for that certain something -- and it worked.

But some of their friends have been caught up by cons.

"People that are really in Africa [saying] send me money, or in Europe too," said Bennett.

Stories like that with up to six people a half world away working one American heart -- one person writing poetry, another doing social media research, another actually communicating with the hopeful romantic and one starting the financial drain asking first for small things like gift cards -- that is part of the reason why the FBI says romance scams result in the highest amount of financial loss to victims when compared to other online crimes.

"This guy was asking whether she lived alone and how much she had in the bank. These things should be red-flags, but she's thinking, 'he's just trying to get to know me.' No he's not," said relationship expert Joey Garcia, describing the case of a woman who's written into her Sacramento News and Review column.

According to Garcia, those looking for a connection may fall into the same kind of over-sharing with a potential mate that so many of us do habitually on all social media with people we actually know.

It's just that information can be weaponized against us by scammers who see pics of new cars and think they've found a money pot.

Garcia says honestly acknowledge your loneliness, but keep it in perspective.

"Instead of finding the world in one person and making them your soulmate, make the world your soulmate. Reach out into all the experiences and people around using the fullness of life. We're less likely to be targets for a scam."

Garcia says the concrete steps to take when you think you've found someone worthwhile -- keep communicating in whatever app you met in and don't rush to give out your cell number.

Also, set up your first meeting quickly to confirm what you've read about them online.

At that meeting, pay attention to how your date treats the waiter at a restaurant or the other people wherever you go.

Seeing rude or abrasive tendencies in that kind of setting could tell you a lot.

Taking a few more steps to protect yourself, then you might end up like Hicks and Maxwell or DeMarco and Bennett.

They were under the stars at the Powerhouse Science Center on  Valentine's night learning about romantic constellations, instead of being a star-crossed lover and conned.