The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that online romance scams are increasingly leaving persons looking for love in all the wrong places. During 2018, the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network received more than 21,000 reports of romance scams with aggregate losses totaling $143 million, which is more than any other consumer fraud type identified by Sentinel. The trend is a steady increase in such scams, which totaled 8,500 reports in 2015 with losses of $33 million.
The romance scammers create phony online profiles, often by lifting pictures off the web to make themselves appealing. They use fake names or assume the identities of real people. The scammers’ reach is wide-ranging on dating apps as well as social media sites that are not generally used for dating (e.g., Facebook messaging). The scammers may also convey stories of blight and despair, such as the need for money due to a medical emergency. Or, they may portray themselves honorably as being stationed overseas.
The median individual loss to a romance scam reported in 2018 was $2,600, about seven times higher than the median loss across all other fraud types. The financial traps are plentiful through wire transfers or sending money using gift and reload cards.
Age apparently does not make people wiser to romance scams. Persons between the ages of 40 to 69 reported the highest losses to romance scams—more than twice the rate of millennials. Unfortunately, seniors over 70 reported the highest individual median losses at $10,000.
Common sense is vital when thinking that love may be in the air on the web. The FTC warns to never send money or gifts to any stranger, even one with the most convincing story of being a potential suitor or sweetheart. If the profile pictures seem too good to be true, try a reverse-image search of the pictures. If they’re associated with another name or with details that don’t match, you’ve uncovered a scam. Information is also available at ftc.gov/imposters. Persons targeted by or falling prey to a romance scam should report the activity to the dating or social media site, as well as the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.