ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Lockdowns can be lonely; the pandemic has been keeping people away from loved ones and even from finding new love. That’s causing scammers to strike.
Experts say catfishing is on the rise during the COVID-19 crisis. A local Marine says he's had his identity stolen hundreds of times and he doesn't want you to be the next victim.
Marine Corps Staff Sergeant David Bickel has a big following on social media.
“I started an Instagram and people like pull-up videos, that's basically where I am at,” David said.
And now the Farmington, Missouri native has made it part of his job as a recruiter.
“Most of the stuff I post on Instagram has to do with the Marine Corps, because the Marine Corps is the only reason I am here today," Bickel said.
But while it's often fun and games, he's also inundated with the dark side.
“At one point, I had 250 DM’s that I hadn't opened yet and I would say half of them were people who have been scammed,” Bickel said.
His pictures and videos used create to fake accounts, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, even Tinder and Bumble.
Not his own accounts, (he’s happily married, by the way) but criminals looking to take advantage of the vulnerable.
“My mom has probably sent me 30 different accounts on Facebook, that she has reported. And now my wife gets messages asking why she is married to this other person and it’s just a crazy mess,” he said.
News 4 Investigates has told you before about romance scams.
Often women, but men too, who think they're talking to a new love interest, but it’s a scammer instead, sometimes sending their life savings hanging on hopes.
And if you think it couldn't happen to you, Bickel says he gets contacted nearly every single day from people blaming him.
“You have no idea, it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Over and over, he receives jealous or confused messages from victims who haven't even figured it out.
“There was one lady I felt so bad for, I read her DM last week and she was out looking at wedding dresses, because she believed that whenever I got back from this deployment I was on, she was going to get married to me.
Often, he'll call them apologize and try to correct the record.
“Having to see these women cry and have all this emotion, it wrecks me, it sucks, but the most I can do is report it,” Bickel said, adding he has reported it dozens, if not hundreds, of times.
Assistant US Attorney Tracy Berry says prosecuting these crimes can be tricky.
“The suspect we have may have 50 victims, but there are also three other individuals who are using that same identity,” she said. Prosecutors just put away one local man back in October for five years in prison but another one just pops up in their place.
“We would like to make sure every suspect faces the full wrath of the law, and we are not always able to do that,” said Berry.
The website Social Catfish recently released a study indicating catfishing, as it’s called, is on the rise during the pandemic.
Bickel hopes people will look out for the clear warning signs.
“If there are 15 photos uploaded on the same day, that's generally going be a scam."
Some victims have lost tens of thousands of dollars, thinking they were doing something out of the goodness of their heart.
One of the best things you can do if you meet someone online is talk to them over video, not the phone.
With Zoom and FaceTime, there's no excuse not to see someone's face.