Love at first sight? Clark Howard warns of romance scams ahead of Valentine’s Day

ATLANTA — Finding normalcy during the pandemic has been a challenge for many Georgians. If you’re looking for love, that challenge can be even greater.

Channel 2 consumer adviser Clark Howard said crooks are out in full force trying to take advantage of the lonely and depressed.

Rebecca D’Antonio said not long ago she was ready to jump back into the dating scene.

“I thought, well, it’s been a couple years since I’ve been in a relationship. Let me give that a go.” She said she met Matthew, a single father of a five-year-old, on the dating site OkCupid.

Rebecca said the relationship developed, but only online. Matthew told her he was on a business trip with his son, and they’d meet up when he returned.

That never happened. Instead, Matthew began asking her for money, explaining his credit card had stopped working on the trip.

“I’m a college-educated woman. I asked all the regular questions, like, ‘Is there someone else that can help you?’ Because our relationship is new,” she said. Matthew, however, was clear that she was the only one he could turn to.

She said she felt sorry for him and took the bait. What started out as a favor has spiraled into over $100,000 in credit card and personal loan debt.

Dave McClellan runs the dating investigation site He told Channel 2 Rebecca’s situation is not uncommon.

“A lot of people are like, ‘This will never happen to me,’” he said. Although nobody is safe from this type of fraud, he added, “There definitely is a certain type of person that is more susceptible.”

McClellan explained people who are depressed or widowed are big targets.

“The age demographic that we typically find is 35 to 65 years old and typically females.” He said scammers look for people who have assets or a home that’s paid off “so they can get access to money.”

According to the FBI, romance scams made off with nearly half a billion dollars in 2019.

FBI Special Agent Todd Renner works in the Atlanta office and said Georgia is the number one spot for another online scam called “muling.”

An online suitor asks the individual to take money out of a bank account and tricks them into giving it to criminals.

Renner told Channel 2 there are a number of reasons Atlanta is a hotspot.

“It could be from the pandemic. It could be from just the density of financial institutions here in Georgia. There’s a variety of reasons. We do not have a definitive answer as to why we’re number one in the nation,” he said.

Both Renner and McClellan said being aware of who you talk to online is key to protecting yourself.

“Just look up basic information just to give you peace of mind or just kind of let you know what’s going on with the person you met,” McClellan said, adding that a simple google search of images and names will go a long way.

Howard agrees. “You’re likely to figure out that somebody is a fraudster way before they are able to get into your heart or into your wallet.”

Rebecca hopes her story serves as a warning for others. “If I save one person from going through what I went through, that to me is worth it,” she said.