As a pandemic gripped the nation, consumers looking for love lost a record $304 million to romance scams.
According to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reported losses to romance scams increased dramatically in 2020 -- rising by approximately 50 percent from 2019. For the third consecutive year, romance scams were the number one type of fraud reported to the agency.
Reports of money lost on romance scams increased across the generational board in 2020, but people ages 20 to 29 saw the most significant increase. As was the case in previous years, people ages 40 to 69 were the most likely to report losing money to romance scams. People 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,475.
The FTC said the pandemic contributed to the rise in losses, but it wasn’t the only driving factor; the uptick in the number of people who have signed up for an online dating service has also fueled the increase in cash lost to these types of scams.
“An obvious reason may be the pandemic limiting our ability to meet in person,” the FTC said in the report. “But outside the pandemic, the share of people who have ever used an online dating site or app has also been rising.”
Between 2016 and 2020, there has been a steady increase in the number of romance scams reported to the FTC. Reported total dollar losses increased more than fourfold over those years.
Detecting romance scams
In its report, the FTC also warned that romance scammers don’t prey exclusively on those who are actively looking for a love connection. Some people have reported being targeted on social media, often in the form of an unexpected friend request or message.
“Sooner or later, these scammers always ask for money,” the agency said. “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 often sprinkled into their tales of woe. The stories are endless, and can create a sense of urgency that pushes people to send money over and over again.”
Some other red flags that you may be dealing with a romance scammer include:
The use of a stolen identity. On the other end of the screen, they’ll be trying to say all the right things to flatter you in order to spark the illusion of a connection.
Claiming to be living abroad as a service member, doctor, or some other kind of professional. Eventually, they will ask you to make future plans with them that will involve you footing the bill for travel or other costs.
What to do
The FTC says consumers should never send gifts or wire money to any romantic partner whom they haven’t met in person. If you suspect you’re dealing with a romance scammer, here’s what the agency recommends you do:
Stop communicating with the person immediately;
Search online for the type of job the person says they have. See if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer;” and
Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. If it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up, it’s a scam.
If you believe you have been the victim of a romance scam, the FTC says that you can report the incident on its website here.