Attorney General Letitia Jams is urging New Yorkers to be aware of a scheme that's has swindled billions from innocent victims.

James issued a new consumer alert on Thursday, warning residents that romance scams are on the rise in the state.

While romance scams are nothing new, they still manage to victimize countless people every year - and their success is why they're becoming increasingly common.

Romance scams are a form of cyber crime where criminals target lonely individuals that are looking for love via dating apps, social media, or even over text. In fact, they research their targets before making contact either through text or social media because it increases their success.

Scammers will create fake profiles and slowly gain their victims' trust by using smooth talk and fake promises to establish a phony romantic connection. This part of the scam is what criminals dub "pig butchering" - or "fattening up" their victim for slaughter.

celiaosk from Getty Images
celiaosk from Getty Images
loading...

The United States Secret Service warned:

Once trust is gained the scammers ask for money. This request could be to pay for a medical emergency or legal fee for themselves or another member of their family, or to help build their business with a promise to repay the loan immediately when they return from traveling.

One the scammer gets what they want, they cut ties and the victim doesn't see a dime of their money returned - leaving them heartbroken and broke.

In other instances, scammers resort to blackmail to secure a payout by threatening to release personal information about the victim, such as intimate photos or private messages.

Read More: IRS Warns of Convincing New Tax Scam in Central New York

Unfortunately, victims struggle with reporting the crime after learning they were duped. They often feel embarrassed and humiliated. Not only that, prosecuting cyber scammers is often impossible.

James urged victims to come forward, saying, "I encourage anyone who believes they may have been a victim of an online romance scam to contact my office." She added victims "are not alone."

The Secret Service also noted prosecuting scammers can sometimes be difficult, especially if their operations are overseas.

Said the Secret Service:

These scammers are not lone-wolf operators, they operate in organized enterprise fraud rings using complex techniques. These scammers have been known to also spoof phone numbers and hire actors to communicate with the victims via phone to further establish the ill-derived trust.

Now, these scammers are using a new tactic that is alarming authorities because of how successful it's been so far.

A New and Disturbing Romance Scam in New York

147800069
Photo Credit - Melpomenem/THinkstock
loading...

Scammers are now taking advantage of Artificial Intelligence to do the dirty job for them, and it's working. New York residents have been targeted by this new ploy and, recently, an elderly man lost nearly $20,000 when a scammer used AI to mimic his granddaughter's voice.

The victim was convinced his granddaughter was in danger and agreed to pay up to save her - not knowing  his actual granddaughter was never in harm's way.

However, scammers are having a lot of luck by using that to steal hearts - and cash.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers stole $1.3 billion from nearly 70,000 victims. In New York, residents lost $30.2 million to scammers last year alone. Now they are now able to dupe more people and secure even greater payloads.

These scammers are now using AI to catfish people. These criminals use altered or fake videos of women or men to chat up their victim and make them believe they're talking to an actual human being that loves them.

Read More: Scammers Impersonating Central New York Officials to Scare Voters

Then the scammer convinces their target to send them money or gift cards by contriving phony stories that, to the victim, sound legitimate. That is why victims willingly pay up and never seem to question why their so-called significant other needs so much cash.

The most popular sob-stories used by these scammers, according to the FTC, involve them or someone they know being sick, hurt, or in jail. However, others claim they will teach their victim how to invest.

How to Spot a Potential Scam

147292100
Carlos_bcn/ThinkStock/TSM
loading...

The FTC has advice on how to determine if that person you're talking to really is too good to be true.

  • Nobody legit will ever ask you to help—or insist that you invest— by sending cryptocurrency, giving the numbers on a gift card, or by wiring money. Anyone who does is a scammer.

  • If someone tells you to send money to receive a package, you can bet it’s a scam.

  • Talk to friends or family about a new love interest and pay attention if they’re concerned.

  • Try a reverse image search of profile pictures. If the details don’t match up, it’s a scam.

Other giveaways include refusing to take video calls and, when reviewing images of the so-called significant other, carefully look for AI giveaways like weird eyes, mismatched fingers since artificial intelligence still struggles to create realistic human eyes or hands.

The FTC is also urging the public to report suspicious profiles or messages on dating apps or social media. After that, report the account to the FTC via ReportFraud.ftc.gov - but in cases of extortion, go straight to the FBI.

96.9 WOUR logo
Get our free mobile app

7 Ways To Protect Yourself From Becoming The Victim Of A Vacation Rental Property Scam

Before you book a vacation rental property, there are seven steps you should take in order to avoid becoming the victim of a vacation rental property scam.

Gallery Credit: Traci Taylor

Expert Tips for Avoiding Online Shopping Scams

In order to avoid a scammer getting the better of you, check out the following red flags to look out for as well as preventative measures to take from Dr. Skiba, AKA Dr. Fraud himself:

Gallery Credit: Maria Danise