(ABC4) — It starts with something seemingly harmless, maybe a comment on a photo, or a message saying hi. But once the bond is created, the FBI says a trap is set. The latest data shows Utahns last nearly $8 million in 2021 to romance scams.

“Within three weeks or so, he was expressing that he was falling in love,” said a woman who asked to go by the name “Darlene.”

FBI supervisory special agent Drew Scown said sometimes scammers spend months developing a relationship with the victim before they bring up money.

  • A common sign is the scammer tells the victim they are working overseas

“They’ll say they’ve been in an accident and they need money for medical bills or all of their identification and computers and phone were stolen,” said Scown. 

  • A common sign is the scammer will tell you they need money

Once that money is gone, the FBI says it’s next to impossible to get that money back, in part because most of these scammers operate outside the U.S. 

“We’ve talked to victims who have taken out mortgages on their houses to send additional funds,” said Scown. 

  • A common sign and a big red flag is a suspicious profile picture

“They’ll sometimes use stock photos or, or pull photographs off of somebody else’s social media account,” said Scown

You can check a photo by doing a reverse google image search. 

  1. Click on the profile photo
  2. Download the photo
  3. Upload the photo to google images reverse search

This will show you where else that image is being used.

  • A common sign is the scammer will say they need money before meeting you in person

Even if the photo checks out, Scown said you should never give money to someone you haven’t met in person at least once. 

Darlene said she saw some red flags, but she ignored them. Scown said this isn’t uncommon. 

“They just want to hold on to the hope that it is real because the feelings that they’ve been having are certainly real,” said Scown. 

Falling in love cost Darlene her retirement, $530,000. 

“That’s why I’m still working at almost the age of 74,” said Darlene. 

Darlene will never get her money back, but she hopes her story will save someone else from heartache. 

“I do not want it to happen to anyone else,” said Darlene.