Beware of romance scams this Valentine's Day

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Love is in the air and online this Valentine's Day.

An overwhelming number of people go online to meet that special someone, but online dating does come with its warnings.

In 2016, the FBI received more than 15,000 reports linked to romance scams with "sweetheart scammers" stealing more than $230 million dollars from unsuspecting victims.

With well-known sites like match.com, eharmony.com, and okcupid.com, the stigma of online dating has gone down and popular phone apps like Tinder and Bumble have also made it easier and faster to just swipe right or left on a profile rather than meet in person.

Jennifer Gage is a relationship therapist who works in downtown Cedar Rapids at the Cedar Rapids Relationship Center.

Gage says dating websites can help give people confidence online that they may not have in large public settings.

And while she tells her clients online dating can be a great tool to meet people she does warn her others, it's still a good idea to know who you're talking to.

"Talk to the person, get to know them a little bit, but then to meet in person, we hear all the horror stories of people who aren't always truthful online and so by meeting in person you get to see this person in front of you," Gage said.

She says a lot of her clients have met online, especially during January a month she says is usually hard for single people because it's a time where people may feel isolated and alone.

While online dating can a good way to meet new people she does tell people they can take additional steps to be safer on dating websites.

"You can have a friend go with you, you can meet in a public place at a busier time so you're not alone. We would always say you shouldn't go to someone's house you don't know, you shouldn't have them pick you up so they know where you live," Gage said.

Gage tells us when dating online it's best to get to know a person until you're confident that they are who they say they are.

Just last week the FBI released tips to online consumers urging people to research a person's photo.

So what do you do if you have been the victim of a romance scam?

You can contact the police and make a report online at the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center