(WJBF) – A warning has been issued by the FBI Columbia field office ahead of Valentine’s Day.

The warning is about potential scams that will happen around the holiday.

Scammers exploit individuals online who may be looking for companionship, or romance.

According to recent data reported in the 2021 Internet Crime Complaint Center annual report, South Carolinians lost $6.8 million dollars to confidence fraud and romance scams that year.

The 2022 data has yet to be released but the stats are expected to increase due to the latest trends.

“Cyber criminals use any information they can find about you to gain your trust, build a relationship, and ultimately steal your money or personal identifiable information (PII),” said Susan Ferensic, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Columbia Division. “We want the public to be well informed about how these scams occur and how they can better protect themselves.”

A list of red flags was provided as well as tips to protect yourself.

Common Romance Scam Red Flags:

  • The scammer makes promises to meet in person but gives excuses as to why they can’t.
  • The scammer will ask for money once they gain your trust. Typically, they explain they have an owed debt, need financial assistance, or they ask for travel funds.
  • The scammer will request money through methods that make it hard to be traced and hard to get back.
  • The scammer may ask to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Be careful what you post and make public online.
  • If you suspect a scam, stop communicating with the person immediately.
  • Conduct a reverse image search of the person’s photo(s). If it is associated with another name or profile, it is likely a scam.
  • Take things slow and ask a lot of questions.
  • Never send money to someone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

If you suspect that you’ve been involved in a romance scam, report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center