The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says people have reported losing more money on romance scams than on any other fraud type identified in Sentinel.
“ In 2020, reported losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million, up about 50% 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 fourfold, and the number of reports nearly tripled”, US Federal Trade Commission said in a report.
The hike in 2020 is due to the pandemic, limiting the ability to meet in person. However, the share of people who have ever used an online dating site or app has also been rising.
Romance Scammers are Primed to take Advantage
Scammers fabricate attractive online profiles to draw people in, often lifting pictures from the web and using made-up names. Some go a step further and assume the identities of real people.
Once they make online contact, they make up reasons not to meet in person. The pandemic has made that easier and people reporting that their so-called suitor claimed to be unable to travel because of the pandemic. Some scammers have reportedly even cancelled first date plans due to a supposed positive COVID-19 test.
The social media users report that the scam often starts with an unexpected friend request or message. Later, these scammers always ask for money. They might say it’s for a phone card to keep chatting. Or they might claim it’s for a medical emergency, with COVID-19.
People also believed their new partner has sent them a large sum of money. But they may be laundering stolen funds. The report says that the money they received and forwarded turned out to be stolen unemployment benefits.
Gift cards being used to send money to romance scammers increased by almost 70% in 2020. 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 to the scammer.
Victims ages 20 to 29 saw the most striking increase in money loss, with the number of reports more than doubling since 2019. People ages 40 to 69 were once again the most likely to report losing money to romance scams. And people 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,475.
Guidelines recommended by FTC
- 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. 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.