In 2020, reported losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million, up about 50 percent from 2019. For an individual, that meant a median dollar loss of $2,500. From 2016 to 2020, reported total dollar losses increased more than four times, and the number of reports nearly tripled.
In addition to the pandemic limiting the ability to meet in person, the number of people who are using online dating sites and apps is rising. Romance scammers are just waiting to pounce.
Scammers create attractive online profiles to draw people in, often taking photos from the web and using fake names. Some assume the identities of real people.
After they make online contact, they make up excuses not to meet in person. The pandemic has made that easier and offered new twists to their stories, with many people reporting that their love interest claimed to be unable to travel due to the pandemic. Some scammers have even canceled first date plans due to a supposed positive covid-19 test.
At some point, scammers always ask for money. They may say it’s for a phone card so they can call. Or they may say it’s for a medical emergency, with covid-19 often cited in their stories. They’ll ask people to send money over and over again.
Scammers also claim to have sent money for some reason, and it needs to be sent back to them or on to someone else. They may be laundering stolen funds. Some of the forwarded money has turned out to be stolen unemployment benefits.
In 2020, reports of gift cards being used to send money to romance scammers increased by nearly 70 percent. Gift cards, along with wire transfers, are the most frequently reported payment methods for romance scams. People said they mailed the gift cards or gave the card’s PIN number to the scammer.
Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission to help you avoid scammers:
- Never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in person – even if they send you money first.
- Talk to someone you trust about this new love interest. It can be easy to miss things that don’t add up. Pay attention if your friends or family are concerned.
- Take it slowly. Ask questions and look for inconsistent answers.
- Try a reverse-image search of the profile pictures. If they’re associated with another name or with details that don’t match up, it’s a scam.
Report suspicious profiles or messages to the dating app or social media platform. In addition, file a complaint with the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Update: New data from the FTC show that more consumers than ever report falling prey to romance scammers. Consumers reported losing $547 million in 2021 alone.