RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) - For Valentine's Day, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper warned consumers about sweetheart scams in which con artists use dating and social media websites to win the trust of victims and steal their money.

Cooper's Consumer Protection Division heard from 25 victims of sweetheart scams in 2012 who lost more than $2 million in total. In 2011, Cooper's office received complaints from 17 victims who lost approximately $700,000 in total from the scams.

"These days many people look for companionship online, and con artists know it," Cooper said Wednesday. "Sweetheart scammers are using websites to meet, woo and romance their victims out of their money."

The scammers use websites such as Facebook, ChristianMingle.com, SeniorPeopleMeet.com and Match.com to send messages to a potential victim expressing interest in getting to know him or her. Following long online conversations designed to convince the victim that the new romance is real, the con artist claims to experience an emergency and asks the victim to wire money.

The victims may only realize that they have been scammed when their bank or wire company becomes suspicious.

Cooper said that sweetheart scams can target men or women of any age but seniors can be special targets. Ten of the 25 consumers who complained of sweetheart scams in 2012 were seniors. One Lexington senior lost more than $1 million to a man who conned her into repeatedly sending him money overseas.

"If someone you meet online starts asking you for money, even a small amount, that's a good sign you're dealing with a scammer," Cooper said. "Contact my office if you or a loved one may be caught up in a sweetheart scam."

Because many scammers are located overseas, Cooper's office worked with international authorities to look into the scams. The Consumer Protection Division helped to intercept thousands of dollars sent overseas by victims of the scams and stopped three attempts by seniors to fly to other countries to hand-deliver cash to the scammers.

More News