Romance scams are on the rise across the U.S.

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

A report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that romance scams are soaring, with more than 21,000 people reporting them in 2018.

Based on 21,368 reports about romance scams submitted, the FTC found that Americans involved had lost a total of $143 million, which was “more than any other type of consumer fraud” identified by the FTC’s team, the report stated.

“These reports are rising steadily,” the report added. “In 2015, by comparison, people filed 8,500… reports with dollar losses of $33 million.” The Consumer Federation of America also noted several romance scams in their latest report.

(Source: FTC)

People over 70 losing $10,000 to scammers

The median loss to an individual who was a victim of a romance scam was $2,600 in 2018. That was “about seven times higher than the median loss across all other fraud types,” the report stated.

The demographic of people aged 40 to 69 reported the highest losses. Additionally, people over 70 reported the highest individual median losses due to a romance scam — a staggering $10,000.

The report noted that romance scammers lured people with fake online profiles, “often lifting photos from the web to create attractive and convincing personas.”

A Nigerian scam victim poses for portrait in Conyers, Georgia in 2009. She was taken for $10,000 by a man she met on an online dating website where he romanced her and then dumped her when her money ran out. (Photo: Erik S. Lesser/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

While scammers were active on dating websites or apps, the report also noted that many people were targeted on Facebook, where the scammer would begin with a Facebook message.

“Once these fraudsters have people by the heartstrings, they say they need money, often for a medical emergency or some other misfortune,” the report noted. “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.”

‘It became too obvious’

Yahoo Finance spoke to once such victim, AJ, who met someone on an LGBT dating app called HER.

“She was a Hispanic/black young lady who claimed to be in the military and was currently on duty in Iraq or something like that,” the 27-year-old said.

She was initially thrilled that the person was responsive to her messages, but she felt that something was off.

“Her English sucked,” AJ said. “Initially I thought it was because she was not raised in the U.S. or had poor or little education but later on it became too obvious.”

On top of that, she was “not willing to have calls or video calls (essentially no direct communication)… [and it] took her forever to send a picture of herself.”

The Australian government puts out information for spotting romance scams. (Source: scamwatch.gov.au)

Eventually, AJ told a friend about this. And when they tried to look into who this person was, they couldn’t find any records. She knew that she may be facing a scammer “when I pieced the different occurrences together,” said AJ.

Subsequently she “told that person she shouldn’t take advantage of people’s pictures.”

“It’s just unethical and plain rude,” AJ added. “In fact, I told her she was committing identity theft. And I just moved on from there. Didn’t bother to waste more time on her.”

But the bad experience turned out to be a good lesson overall.

“You need to be smart about whom you are talking to especially when it comes to online dating,” AJ said. “NEVER ignore yellow or red flags. If you smell something fishy,” that’s an indication that likely “something weird’s going on.”

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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