ATLANTA — With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, thousands of people are online looking for love.
But the FBI says be careful before you “swipe right” this Valentine’s Day because a new romance could cost you thousands of dollars.
[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]
They say con artists ripped off at least 500 people in Georgia in 2021 while they were searching for love. They call it romance fraud, which generated a billion dollars.
Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes was LIVE in southwest Atlanta on Channel 2 Action News at 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, where she spoke with FBI agent Chris Mcrae.
Mcrae told Fernandes that the pandemic made these romance fraud cases spike. When you total up all the money stolen nationwide, that’s where the billion dollars comes from, and that’s just in one year.
“They are just targeting hundreds and hundreds of victims,” said Mcrae.
One woman met a con artist online and he convinced her to give him more than $100,000. She’s just one of many victims.
“We’ve seen a spike in it from the onset of the pandemic. Everything was shut down, people were stuck in their homes and they were trying to look for avenues to communicate and, you know, meet new love interests. That’s when we really saw a spike in it,” said Mcrae.
The FBI says a fugitive by the name of Ugo Caesar Anele was running a huge scheme with other people. He pleaded guilty to wire fraud but took off before reporting to prison. Agents say he wasn’t the one necessarily talking to victims directly, but he was receiving a cut of the money.
“It’s a large conspiracy, he may not know where the money is coming from. He just knows he’s providing an account for the receipt of those fraud proceeds,” said Mcrae.
- Human remains found in Gwinnett County identified as missing 16-year-old girl
- Storage facility accidentally auctions off everything metro Atlanta woman owns
- ‘She killed the kids’: Prosecutor alleges mother used exercise bands to strangle 3 children
Agents say they are looking for Caesar and that he was living and working in Atlanta when he ripped off thousands of dollars from people.
Investigators believe there are more victims out there that may be too embarrassed to come forward.
“We’re trying to get the message out. We need people to report these scams, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” said Mcrae.
If you know where he is, the FBI wants to hear from you, and if you’ve been scammed, it’s important for you to report it.
[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]
IN OTHER NEWS:
©2022 Cox Media Group