People looking for romance are hoping to be swept off their feet, not caught up in a scam
In 2018, the FTC Consumer Sentinel had more than 21,000 reports about romance scams, and people reported losing a total of $143 million – that’s more than any other consumer fraud type identified in Sentinel. These reports are rising steadily. In 2015, by comparison, people filed 8,500 Sentinel reports with dollar losses of $33 million.
Romance scammers lure people with phony online profiles, often lifting photos from the web to create attractive and convincing personas. Once these fraudsters have people by the heartstrings, they say they need money, often for a medical emergency or some other misfortune. They often claim to be in the military and stationed abroad, which explains why they can’t meet in person. Pretending to need help with travel costs for a long-awaited visit is another common ruse.
Scammers can reap large rewards for time spent courting their targets. 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. People who said they were ages 40 to 69 reported losing money to romance scams at the highest rates – more than twice the rate of people in their 20s. At the same time, people 70 and over reported the highest individual median losses at $10,000.
Here’s what singles can do to play it safe while dating online:
- Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person.
- Talk to someone you trust about this new love interest. In the excitement about what feels like a new relationship, we can be blinded to things that don’t add up. Pay attention if your friends or family are concerned.
- Take it slow. 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.