If your New Year's resolution is to fall in love, be careful where you go looking for it.
The FBI has received a significant number of complaints about an extortion scam that targets people looking for love online. The agency issued an official warning about the scam months after KIRO Radio first ran a story on it back in August.
Alan Chalfant, 29, of Tacoma, told KIRO Radio he was pulled into the scam after he joined the dating website Plenty of Fish.
The ordeal began in June, when Chalfant messaged a user who purported to be a single, 20-something woman. She replied that she no longer wished to keep her account on the dating site and asked Chalfant to add her as a friend on Facebook.
On the social networking site, the two began to exchange flirtatious messages. The conversation turned sexual when the "girl" asked Chalfant if he wanted to be "friends with benefits."
The two made plans to meet in a public place.
"I mean, I'm not attached to anybody. I wasn't seeing anybody. I wasn't doing anything wrong," Chalfant said in August.
It wasn't until the messages abruptly stopped that Chalfant discovered the sexually explicit Facebook conversation he had with the "woman" had been posted on a website called BaitMyMate.com. He was told the post could be removed if he paid a $99 fee.
"My first thought was, 'What's the legality of this? Can you actually do this to someone?'" he said. "I just don't see how that's legal."
An Internet search of "BaitMyMate" brought up dozens of private Facebook conversations similar to Chalfant's that were posted by the site. The site has "busted" men and women from Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, California, and Texas, among other states. In Washington, men from Lynnwood, Renton, and Tacoma had been "baited" as well.
There is no indication that Plenty of Fish or Facebook knew about the scams.
At the time, the FBI's Computer Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) in Washington, D.C., said they had received a "small number" of similar complaints, but that it did not rise to the level of issuing an official warning.
Reports to the FBI, however, have increased in frequency and IC3 warned consumers about the scam in a recent report.
"People looking for love online need to remain vigilant about who they choose to communicate with and how they do so," the FBI said in a blog post.
The FBI receives roughly 300,000 complaints annually from people who say they have been scammed online. If you believe you have been the victim of an online scam, file a complaint with IC3.