Romance scams cost Americans over $500 million last year

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released a new report revealing that scammers managed to swindle a record $547m out of Americans looking for love online last year.

Over the past five years though, Americans have reported losing a staggering $1.3bn to romance scams which is more than any other fraud category tracked by the FTC.

Just like with other fraudsters, romance scammers often create fake profiles with attractive photos stolen online that they use to trick potential victims and sometimes they’ll even assume the identities of real people to appear even more believable.

While many victims reported being contacted on dating apps, others received unexpected private messages on social media platforms with more than a third of people who lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 saying that it began on either Facebook or Instagram.

In order to con people into handing over their hard-earned cash, romance scammers concoct all sorts of believable stories such as pleas for help while claiming one financial or health crisis after another. These stories also might invoke a sick child or a temporary inability to get their money for a variety of reasons. 

Romance as a lure

A growing trend observed last year by the FTC involved scammers using romance as a hook to lure victims into bogus investments and many of these involved cryptocurrency.

After making victims believe their a successful investor, these scammers then provide those looking for love with investment opportunities that often involve foreign exchange (forex) trading or cryptocurrency. However, following the scammer’s advice often leads to victims losing all of the money they’ve invested.

In 2021, the largest reported losses to romance scams were paid in cryptocurrency and amounted to $139m. At the same time though, more people reported paying romance scammers with gift cards than with any other payment method. In fact, around one in four people said they paid a romance scammer with a gift card and they reported losing $36m last year.

To avoid falling victim to romance scams online, the FTC recommends that people never send or forward money to someone they haven’t met in person and avoid acting on their investment advice. However, it’s also worth doing a reverse-image search of their profile pictures to ensure they are who they say they are.

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