By ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — When Mary Darby met the man of her dreams on a dating app, she thought she had hit the jackpot.

“He told me that he fell madly in love with me, and so, of course, I fell hook, line and sinker,” Darby told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

But things took a turn when the man she met started asking for money for his “daughter’s surgery,” and asked her to open an account for him and send her gift cards.

“He said one of his children needed emergency surgery and that the copay on it was $500,” said Darby, who said that he had asked her to send money to him. She ended up sending the initial $500, but said sent him more when he had asked.

“Then it led to another $500 and then it led to a $1,000,” she said.

Darby wasn’t aware at the time, but she had fallen victim to a romance scam.

Last year, scammers took in a record amount of cash in romance scams, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In a new report, the FTC says consumers lost more than $300 million to romance scams in 2020 — a 50% increase from the previous year.

Now during the pandemic and ahead of Valentine’s Day, the FTC is warning about scammers creating fake profiles and taking advantage of the pandemic and the economic crisis.

“We have had people report — hundreds of people report — that these scammers were sending them fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits,” said Monica Vaca, FTC associate director for the division of consumer response and operations.

The biggest age group that scammers have targeted? People who are 20-29 years old.

To avoid falling victim to a romance scam, the FTC advises people to use this checklist to determine if you’re being scammed:

1. Scammers make excuses to not meet in person

Vaca said that this has been easy during the pandemic: “There are some people that have even said things like, ‘I just tested positive or COVID… I can’t meet up with you today.”

If the person you’re speaking with repeatedly rejects invitations to meet up in person, Vaca said you’re likely being scammed.

2. Never send money

To avoid Fraud, the FTC advises to never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met yet. Instead, take it slowly, ask questions and look for consistent answers.

3. Do a reverse-image search on the person’s profile photos

If the picture is associated with another name or with details that don’t match up, it’s likely that the relationship you’ve forged with the person you met online is a scam.

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