Just in time for Valentines Day, and love is indeed in the air, but there is also a foul odor of fraud at play and here's a timely reminder to use your head and not your heart in the never ending chase of romance in the pants.

The Oregon Division of Financial Regulation would like to warn you, don’t get catfished.

Recently, an 80-year-old widower was catfished out of $200,000 by an unidentified fraudster who first stole a Florida woman’s identity to befriend the Oregonian through an online dating service, and then persuaded him to send money for a business opportunity.

Over several months, the con artist convinced the elderly man that they were in a long-distance romantic relationship, and proposed an opportunity to support an art gallery in Florida.

The scammer pretended to seek investors to cover $5 million in transportation costs to ship a 500-ton marble lion sculpture from China. The con artist promised that investments would be returned plus a percentage of the profits from the sale of the sculpture.

The widower even received fabricated documents detailing the contract with the museum and bank statements. Relying on the documents and his romantic relationship, the victim made a series of payments over five months to various individuals and overseas bank accounts totaling more than $200,000.

The widower lost his entire investment and investigators have been unable to locate the scammer.

“Romance scams typically target older individuals, gain their trust, then ask for money through social media and dating websites,” said Andrew Stolfi, division administrator. “Unfortunately, victims often wire funds overseas or to third-party transfer agents, making it difficult to track the money and identify the con artist.”

The division encourages consumers to do their homework before making any investment. Protect yourself from getting catfished or falling for an investment scam by following these tips:

  • Do not send money to anyone you have not met in person, and be cautious about sharing personal or financial information.
  • Do not transfer money to unknown people or intermediaries. If you need to use a third party to send money, use a licensed money transmitter.
  • Keep copies of all communications with scammers and report them to the division, the online dating site, the local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Trade Commission.

Question? How can one be in a "romantic relationship" if one has never actually MET the other? A prudent question for Valentines, or any day, for that matter.

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