Chicago-area woman warns of romance scams after sister loses $80K

Romance scams affect thousands of people every year, with the FTC reporting total losses of $1.1 billion

A Chicago Ridge woman is out $80,000 after falling for a man she thought was an acclaimed actor.

The woman's sister says she met the person, claiming to be Taylor Kinney from NBC's "Chicago Fire," through an online fan page.

"She went through all of her savings. She cashed out her 401(k). She’s taken loans. She had a car that was paid off, now she took a loan against the car," said Sally, who only wants to be identified by her first name.

"It progressed from 'hey, buy this fan card,' to 'hey, I need money, my manager is holding my contract and not giving me money to use to get out of that contract,'" said Sally. "They just kept asking for more, more, more."

Communication between the two has been ongoing for over a year, according to Sally, who says she even filed a police report.

Sally says her sister is under the impression she'll soon get a meet and greet with Kinney, even showing her family a phony contract.

"It’s a lot of loving language, a lot of 'honeys' and 'my queens.' But, sometimes it’s very abusive. It’s 'you don’t love me.' And 'why would you do this to us' and 'you don’t trust me.' They’re very, very good," said Sally.

Sally's sister is far from alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2023, more than 64,000 people reported a romance scam, with losses topping $1.1 billion.

"They play with your emotions," said Steve Bernas, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Chicago. They always ask for money in some way. Sometimes it’s in small increments, which adds up to a lot. Sometimes it’s some people’s life savings."

Ahead of Valentine's Day, both the BBB and Illinois Attorney General issued warnings to avoid romance scams.

Red flags include avoiding individuals who refuse to meet in person or over video, asking for money or personal information before ever meeting, and using sad stories to ask for financial help.

"They play with those emotions, so they make them feel guilty," said Bernas.

Bernas encourages online daters to reverse image search photos provided, to ask specific questions about details given in a profile, and to take things slowly.

Sally hopes sharing her sister's story will help someone else.

"I know this is affecting so many more people than just us. Even though she’s still in the thick of it, and not willing to see where we’re coming from, we hope somebody will be able to benefit from this and that’s really what we want to do."

The BBB of Chicago urges anyone encountering a scam, whether they lose money or not, to report it to the BBB Scamtracker.

The FTC says people who believe they have been a victim should save all copies of the communications, stop contact with the individual, and block any phone numbers, instant messaging accounts, and email addresses used by the scammer.

Victims or friends and family can report the user’s profile to the platform or website they are using and report the matter to the local police, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the FTC.

Contact Us