SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Romance schemes are costing Americans hundreds of millions of dollars each year. An increase in online dating, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, is making those numbers soar.

In 2019, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported romance schemes took $201 million. Those reported losses have increased six times since 2015.

According to the United States Secret Service resident agent in charge in Savannah, romance schemes start innocently.

“They’re sitting on their computer and they think they have a boyfriend or girlfriend that lives overseas,” explained Glen Kessler, who went on to say that there are clear, red flags that can indicate to someone that the romance is a scam.

“Significant others” will start asking for money, bank statements and driver’s license numbers. Some even ask to use a victim’s bank account “making them into what we refer to as a victim in the United States as a money mule for a money launderer for a third party organization overseas,” said Kessler.

If that happens, Kessler says you could lose banking privileges and be interviewed by members of the Secret Service. Agents will attempt to determine how knowledgeable you are about your involvement in the crime. It could lead to prosecution.

You also risk losing tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Last year, Kessler says the Secret Service retrieved $3.2 million from scammers who took money from people in the Savannah area. Millions of more dollars are gone.

If money is reported missing after the 72-hour mark, it is very difficult for authorities to retrieve it.

“It’s heartbreaking to have people come into this office and tell us that they’ve lost their life savings, thinking they’ve been giving money to their boyfriend or girlfriend. In actuality, there’s just a terrorist organization or a criminal organization on the other side of the internet,” said Kessler.

There are signs a significant other may be a con artist. Have they professed their love quickly? Have they asked for money? Have you only spoken online?

If those answers are yes, experts say it may be a scam and you should report it immediately to the FTC, the FBI and the online dating service.