CRIME TEAM: Stolen Hearts, stolen cash

CRIME TEAM: Stolen Hearts, stolen cash

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Around Valentine's Day, romance is always looming. But, so are scammers.

A Tucson woman shared with KOLD News 13 her cautionary tale about thieves stealing your heart -- and your money.

"I'm pissed," said Kay, who wants to keep her identity hidden after what just happened to her. "It's a shame, really a shame."

Kay is a 60-year-old Tucson grandmother and widow. She turned to an online dating site a few months ago and met a man who seemed kind and open.

According to his online profile, 61-year-old Michael is a Libra and loves to travel.

Michael told Kay that he's a railroad engineer and had to suddenly go to the Philippines to work on a project for a few months.

So, the two connected over intimate emails. He sent sweet-talking text messages. Pretty soon, he had swept her off her feet. That's how scammers set up their victims.

"They really know how to get to your emotions," Kay said.

So one day, when Michael claimed he ran into financial problems overseas, he managed to convince Kay to help him out.

She won't reveal how much money she handed over, but it's in the five figures.

"It's quite a bit," she said. "More than I would like to admit to."

Sadly, with so many dating sites popping up, scams like these are on the rise. And around Valentine's Day, singles can be more vulnerable.

"This scam is a big one," said Susann Miller with the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona. "'Tis the season."

Miller tracks local scams across southern Arizona. She advises that if you are looking online for love, remember some key tips:

  • Investigate the profile thoroughly; ask specific questions about them to see if they are real or hiding behind a fake profile
  • Meet in person in a safe public place to see if they really are who they say they are
  • Never give your personal address, email, or phone number; communicate only through the match-making website
  • Never, ever send money -- no matter what kind of sob story tugs at your heart

"I know you're just looking for someone to connect with," Miller said. "But be careful what kind of information you give out until you have confirmation of who they are."

Typically, these kinds of romance scams are not reported as frequently as other frauds. But experts say don't let that fool you.

"This is a very intimate situation," Miller said. "And a lot of people don't want to admit this is happening to them."

Kay now knows that first-hand. She has this warning for anyone who thinks this kind of scam could never happen to them: "I always said it would never happen to me!"

Kay also cautions others to trust their gut instincts if something seems suspicious.

Looking back, Kay said there were times that some things just didn't seem quite right with Michael. Whenever she had questioned him at the time, he turned it right back around on her, saying trust is important in a relationship.

That's how emotionally manipulative these romance scammers can be.

The BBB also reminds consumers of other romance scams to watch out for around Valentine's Day:

  • Bogus E-cards -- Watch out for emails telling you that someone has sent you an electronic greeting card. They can be tempting and alluring, but check:
    • Does it state the specific name of a person or email you recognize? If not, delete the email.
    • Does it send you to a website? Confirm that it's a legitimate site, not one that mimics known sites. Open the site yourself in another browser window instead of clicking on their link.
  • Phishing through flowers -- Watch out for emails claiming to be from a florist, saying they can't deliver the bouquet you ordered. They ask you to log in and re-enter your credit card information. This scam works because it reaches enough people who actually have ordered flowers.
    • Did you actually order flowers? If so, call the florist directly to confirm the status of your order. Don't click on the link in the email.
  • Phony package delivery -- Beware of a phony delivery person knocking on your door, claiming to have a gift that someone sent you. This "delivery person" will likely say that whoever sent you this order failed to pay the delivery charge, and so they need your credit card number to cover the small fee.
    • Never, ever give your credit card number to a stranger at your door. Check the sender's information. Chances are, it's a bogus delivery that was not actually sent by anyone you know.

If you feel you have been victimized by a scammer, you can report it to the BBB's Scam Tracker program.

You can also report it to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Copyright 2017 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

MOBILE USERS: Download our app, the most-used news app in southern Arizona, to get breaking news alerts, weather forecasts and exclusive content on your Apple and Android devices.