Dating and romance scams often take place through online dating websites, but scammers may also use social media or email to make contact.They have even been known to telephone their victims as a first introduction. “This thrill was evident in the most popular of Internet activities among youth — collecting pen pals.” Burrell observed young Ghanaians pursuing a variety of relationships with foreigners online, including same-aged platonic friendships, romantic relationships, older adults to appeal to for advice, patrons offering financial support, and even business partnerships.

Victims were later sent a link to a website where those conversations were posted, along with photos, their phone numbers, and claims that they were “cheaters.” In order to have that information removed, victims were told they could make a $99 payment—but there is no indication that the other side of the bargain was upheld.

While the FBI and other federal partners work some of these cases—in particular those with a large number of victims or large dollar losses and/or those involving organized criminal groups—many are investigated by local and state authorities.

Although Ghana’s elite already had Internet access and international connections, the more widespread availability of public Internet cafés provided the first opportunity for many ordinary Ghanaians — especially youth — to interact with the wider world.

“The Internet provided opportunities for making faraway places very tangible and personal,” said Burrell.

One way to steer clear of these criminals altogether is to stick to online dating websites with nationally known reputations.

Finally, the FBI advises not to send money through any wire transfer service to someone you met online.

“Once ordinary Ghanaians began coming online, they were coming into an already organized and formed subculture, not knowing what the rules were,” Burrell explained.

When Burrell began studying the youth Internet culture in Accra, Ghana, in the early years of the 21st century, she found a widely-shared fixation on making foreign connections and specifically on possibilities for travel overseas.

Millions of Americans visit online dating websites every year hoping to find a companion or even a soulmate.

But as Valentine’s Day gets closer, the FBI wants to warn you that criminals use these sites, too, looking to turn the lonely and vulnerable into fast money through a variety of scams..

The pictures you were sent were most likely phony lifted from other websites.