- Romance scammers bilked Americans out of $1 billion in 2021, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- Romance scams increased among all ages in 2021, with those aged 70 and up reporting the highest losses, nearly $9,000 per case, the Federal Trade Commission said.
- Gift cards are the most likely thing romance scammers want, but cryptocurrency fraud is rising.
Valentine’s Day is behind us, but romance scams remain alive and dwell online, with fake suitors’ latest goal to get you to invest in cryptocurrency.
Romance scams, in which an online scammer leads a person on with talk of love and then swindles them, do not end after the roses and chocolates are delivered.
The FBI issued an alert last week about victims of romance fraud losing $1 billion in 2021. Similarly, romance scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission rose 80% in 2021, with victims losing $547 million.
These numbers are likely low, both agencies said. “The bottom line is most consumers are not reporting fraud when it happens and romance scams may be particularly unlikely to be reported because there can be a lot of embarrassment around it,” said Emma Fletcher, a FTC analyst, told USA TODAY.
Scammers may attempt to connect with victims on dating apps, and they may send unsolicited private messages on Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites. Eventually the scammers – who typically live in another part of the country or world – will seek money to help with an emergency or for travel, the agencies say. They will also try to get important data from victims, too, including birth dates and bank account numbers.
While scammers may specifically target women over the age of 40 who are widowed, divorced, elderly and who may be disabled, the FBI said, Americans of all ages are susceptible.
Romance scams increased among all ages in 2021, with those aged 70 and up reporting the highest losses – nearly $9,000 per case – while those aged 18-29 lost $750, the FTC said.
Ahead of Valentine’s Day, TikTok issued a safety advisory to users with #BeCyberSmart that included tips to be alert to romance scams as they have “long-plagued dating apps & other online forums.”
Fake cupids want cryptocurrency, gift cards
When scammers sought payments from victims, they were most likely to ask for gift cards, the FTC said. However, the largest losses came from payments made in cryptocurrency, which accounted for $139 million in losses in 2021, with the median reported loss of $9,770, the FTC said.
Typically, a scammer will hold themselves up as a savvy investor and mention buying cryptocurrency and suggest you send it to an online wallet, which the victim thinks is an investment website. “But in fact, it’s all a scam,” Fletcher said.
FBI, FTC tips on how to protect yourself from romance scams
- Be on the alert if your new online love paramour wants you to leave the dating app where you met to move to a more private messaging option, such as email or text.
- Another warning sign: They ask you to send compromising photos or videos of yourself.
- Do not send money, tradeor invest at the advice of someone you have only met online.
- Only a scammer would ask you to send them cryptocurrency, give them the numbers on a gift card or wire them money.
- Do not give your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
- Do not disclose your current financial status to unknown and untrusted individuals.
- Talk to friends or family about a new love interest and pay attention if they’re concerned.
- If your online love’s photo appears too perfect, that’s a sign of a scammer, too. Use Google to do a reverse-image search of their profile picture to see if their photo matches someone with another name.
- If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately. If you have already sent money, immediately report any fund transfer to your financial institution.
- You can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov), your local FBI office or other law enforcement agency. Also report the crime to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
A woman using the name “Darlene” tells the story of how she was scammed in a video on the FBI’s YouTube channel. “I gave him my phone number because he seemed so authentic,” she said. “Well, within three weeks or so, he was expressing that he was falling in love with me.”
The man, who she called “Giovanni,” told her he was an architect and a contractor who had to travel to Turkey for a job and asked for a loan of $30,000. Then, he needed more money. “We’re going through this forever. We’re going to get married,” he told her.
Darlene began to see flags, but “was ignoring them,” she said. In the end, she gave him $530,000 – her retirement fund, which is why at nearly the age of 74 she is still working, she said.
“How could I have fallen for this? But it happens to so many people from all walks of life,” she said. “I do not want it to happen to anyone else.”
The FBI received more than 25,000 romance fraud complaints in 2021, said FBI special agent Keith Custer of Baltimore in another FBI YouTube video. “Victims at the end of a romance scam can feel manipulated,” he said. “Families, relationships, marriages can be torn apart, and the toll that one of these scams can take is devastating.”
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.