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Southwestern Pennsylvania Man Loses Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars In Romance Scam

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The FBI says it is seeing more romance scams amid the coronavirus pandemic.

KDKA spoke to a victim who didn't want to be identified.

"It was back several years ago when I was at a vulnerable point," said the victim.

That vulnerability took the victim to the online dating website, where he met who he thought was a woman in 2017.

"Started out with, 'Hey, can you help me here? I need 50 bucks to pay a bill,'" said the victim. "They'll email you and divert you by saying, 'Are you on WhatsApp or Hangouts?' And go into that."

The victim says the conversations continued off and on through social media, by text, and even phone calls until the spring of this year when police stepped in.

"The first thing the perpetrator has to do is steal your trust," said New Wilmington Police Chief Carmen Piccirillo.

Piccirillo said that is what happened to the victim.

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"They look for people that have that strong emotion of wanting love, wanting companionship, they're lonely, they're isolated," said Piccirillo.

By doing that, Piccirillo says the scammer can eventually convince the person to send money. The victim told KDKA that despite seeing several red flags, he still could not let go.

"She wanted to come live with me. She wanted to come be with me. She wanted to take care of me and take care of all my debts with her inheritance that she had," the victim said.

Turns out, the person behind the romance scam was a man from Uganda. These scams aren't just happening in Lawrence County. The FBI says they've seen an increase in people reporting these types of scams all across western Pennsylvania since the start of the pandemic.

"With the pandemic, especially, we've seen a huge uptick in internet use and social media and social platforms, and with that comes the inherent risk of being scammed by someone," said Chad Yarbrough with the FBI.

According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, there were 26 percent more confidence fraud and romance scam complaints filed by people in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia during the second quarter of 2020, which was in the first few months of the pandemic, compared to the first quarter.

Many of those counties were in our region, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. The victim who talked to KDKA says he lost tens of thousands because of this scam.

KDKA's Amy Wadas: Enough to make a huge impact on your life?

Victim: Yes, enough to pretty much have to file bankruptcy.

"This is an embarrassing crime to report by these victims," said Piccirillo.

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