BALTIMORE — Romance scams have nearly doubled this year, according to the FBI.
The holidays coupled with the pandemic have many people feeling lonely. Dating sites help singles connect, but it's not always who you think it is.
A Montgomery County man thought he was in a relationship with a woman named Brandy Bowens, instead, he lost $15,000 in a romance scam.
"It’s like there are claws in you that you can't seem to get out," he said.
He didn't want to be identified but wants to warn others about how his five-year relationship ended in financial ruin.
"It's hard. I lost the money and it messed up everything in a financial way for me, trying to build my credit back, just so much that that has screwed up for me," he said.
His better judgment took a back seat when he was asked to be the go-between for the woman's art business. The FBI later informed him that he was involved in a money-laundering operation.
"That's a huge problem and continues to be a problem," said Supervisory Special Agent Keith Custer with the FBI Baltimore field office.
Custer estimates that romance scams are up 30 to 50 percent. It's also one of the highest dollar value scams, and victims rarely get their money back.
Custer is warning anyone with an online dating profile to research the person's photo and profile. Start by doing a reverse google image search, and look for scammers to make up excuses on why they can't meet in-person or video chat.
"Saying my phone is broke or my camera doesn’t work," the Montgomery County man said.
And never send money to anyone you don't know personally.
"More people are being isolated and are online looking for companionship, so naturally that fraud and those scams are going to continue," said Custer.
If you think you might be a victim of a romance scam, contact your local FBI office or file a report online.
This story was first reported by Mallory Sofastaii at WMAR in Baltimore, Maryland.