HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — With romance scams on the rise, federal officials have provided tips on how to avoid getting your wallet (and your heart) broken.

For starters, people looking for romance often use dating apps. According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the number of older citizens using dating apps has doubled in the past three years and 12% of people from ages 55 to 64 have turned to dating apps to find love and start dating again.

The apps open the doors for both love and scams, officials warned.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2020, citizens reportedly lost $304 million romance scams, which is reported to be nine times higher than it has been in the last five years. Also in 2020, older adults reportedly lost about $139 million in romance scams.

These modern app-based romance scams reportedly originate in parts of West Africa, mainly in Nigeria and Ghana, officials said. Scammers target mostly recent widowed or divorced seniors who have access to money and remain socially vulnerable, officials stated.

The following are tips officials have provided to avoid a romance scam:

  • Raising awareness can help protect yourself and older loved ones
  • Check in on older loved ones
  • Limit what your share on the internet
  • Do your research
  • If you meet someone online, take it slow and ask questions
  • Listen to your instincts, if something seems too good to be true. chances are it probably is
  • Do not overshare your personal information with someone you just met online
  • Be cautious if you have not met in person yet
  • If an individual you met online ask for money. Do not send money.

If you believe you have been scammed:

  • Stop all communication with the individual
  • Talk to a loved one or someone you trust about the situation
  • Report the incident to local law enforcement
  • Submit a fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission

Being aware your new online fling and taking these steps may help avoid breaking your bank and your heart, officials advised.