The Federal Trade Commission has released data that shows romance scams cost more money than other types of consumer fraud reported to the agency last year—and the problem is getting worse. Romance scammers target people through dating sites and apps or social media, often using fake profiles and sob stories to convince victims to send them large amounts of money.
The number of romance scams reported to the FTC increased from 8,500 in 2015 to 21,000 last year. Reported losses from these scams grew more than four times, from $33 million in 2015 to $143 million last year. The figures for 2018 are based on 21,368 reports submitted to FTC’s Consumer Sentinel, a database of consumer complaints.
Romance scams were particularly costly for individual victims. The median loss reported by romance scam victims was $2,600, or seven times higher than the median loss across other types of fraud. People between the ages of 40 to 69 reported losing money to romance scams at twice the rate of people in their 20s, but the elderly lost larger amounts, with victims aged 70 and over reporting the biggest median losses at $10,000.
The FTC says the majority of victims were asked to wire money, while the second largest group were asked to use gift or reload cards like Moneypak, which are all methods that are quick, usually difficult to reverse, and allow recipients to remain anonymous. Romance scammers often claim they need money for medical and other emergencies, and come up with excuses about why they can’t meet with their targets in person, for example claiming to be in the military and stationed abroad or not having enough funds to travel.
To prevent being victimized, the FTC suggests doing a reverse image search of profile photos to check if a profile is fake, not sending money to people you haven’t met in person, and being open with family and friends about online relationships.