More consumers than ever report falling prey to romance scammers, according to new Federal Trade Commission data that show consumers reported losing a record $304 million to the scams last year.
A newly released data spotlight shows that the amount consumers reported losing to romance scammers is up about 50 percent since 2019, and has increased more than fourfold since 2016.
Scammers draw people in using pictures stolen from around the internet, building false personas that seem just real enough to be true, but always having a reason never to meet in person. Eventually, the supposed suitor will ask for money from the unwitting consumer. The impact can be major, with the median loss reported to the FTC being $2,500 – more than ten times higher than the median loss across all other frauds.
The COVD-19 pandemic has resulted in people staying physically distant, providing ample reason for consumers to look for relationships online and providing a swath of new reasons for scammers to use to put off meeting in person.
The spotlight notes that while many people report the romance scam started on a dating site or app, even more report that the scam originated from contact through social media. While the asks for money sometimes begin with a story about a medical emergency, consumers reporting the largest losses often said they believed the scammer had actually sent them money. Many people reported that these instances turned out to be elaborate money laundering schemes, such as for fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits.
According to the spotlight, consumers most often report sending money to romance scammers by wire transfer or in the form of gift cards. Reports of gift cards used to pay romance scammers were up by nearly 70 percent over 2019.
The FTC provides tips for consumers on how to spot romance scams and protect themselves at ftc.gov/romancescams.
The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition and to protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and report scams, fraud, and bad business practices online at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.