In context: Of all the different types of online scams, few are as effective as those of the romance variety. It's why people have reported losing $1.3 billion to romance scams over the last five years, more than any other FTC fraud category.
According to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the amount of money conned out of people using romance scams has skyrocketed in recent years, hitting a record high of $547 million in 2021. That's more than six times the reported losses in 2017 and an 80% increase compared to 2020.
Victims lost a median average of $2,400 in 2021. That's a lot of money, but it could have been even higher as those who fall for romance scams often feel too ashamed or embarrassed to report them. As noted by a previous FTC release, the only social media-based scam that saw more money taken from victims last year was investment cons.
A typical romance scam involves someone creating a fake profile, usually using an attractive photo taken from somewhere online. The scammers can even use real people's identities. It's also common for them to research the targets so they know their likes and interests.
While dating apps are the usual method of contacting victims, more than a third of people who lost money to dating scams last year say they were contacted on Facebook or Instagram first.
The common sign of a romance scam is the perpetrator having some reason for not being able to meet the victim in person, such as working away or being in the military. After forming a bond, the scammer will come up with a story about why they need money: a sick child or another relative, being temporarily unable to access their funds, a health or financial crisis, etc.
There are cases where the scammer sends the victim money claiming it's part of a business deal, but in reality it's a money-laundering scheme. This same method is used to trick people into sending their own cash, such as paying fees to accept funds that never arrive, or depositing cheques and sending some of the money before it clears, only for the cheque to be a fake.
Romance and investment scams often intersect, with the fake love interests offering victims the opportunity to get onboard a crypto-based scheme that turns out to be fake. Median losses for those who fall for cryptocurrency scams are close to $10,000, according to the FTC.
The FTC reminds people not to send money to anyone they've just met online. And if you're suspicious that the stunning beauty chatting you up might not be on the level, try a reverse image search.