Just in time for Valentine’s Day – a new report released yesterday by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that it measured a sharp increase in losses linked to romance scams in 2021, bringing total losses over the last five years to $1.3 billion.
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, which collects reports about identity theft, coronavirus scams, and other schemes, said Americans lost $547 million to romance scams last year, up from $307 million in 2020 and $202 million in 2019. The FTC added that these figures likely only capture a small portion of losses suffered by consumers as the vast majority of frauds are not reported to the government.
What are Romance Scams?
Romance scams can take many forms. More than one-third of the reports collected by the FTC began with a message received on Facebook or Instagram. Scammers may exchange messages with a victim for months to build up trust, and often invent stories about a sick relative or financial crisis to con a victim into transferring money to them. In some scams, victims don’t transfer their own money but are unwittingly convinced to act as “money mules,” helping to illegally launder stolen funds.
What do these scams look like?
One of the more popular romance scams from last year involved luring victims into bogus cryptocurrency investments. The FTC report indicates that about $139 million in cryptocurrency was lost in romance scams last year, up 5 times what was reported in 2020 and up 25 times from 2019.
What were the runner up scams? Bank transfer payments ($121 million), wire transfers ($93 million), and gift cards ($36 million).
Who are the victims?
Although the number of total victims increased, there was an unexpected sharp rise in victims between the age of 18 and 29, a 10x increase between 2017 and 2021. The good news is however that victims in this age group lost about $750 on average, compared to $9,000 for victims who are 70 and older.
What can you do?
Unfortunately romance scams are a touchy subject, which is why they’re often not reported. We did a segment on this last September about a local lady that was duped out of over $50,000 by a romance scammer. In that case, the kids came to her rescue and you can too!
Remember some of the red flags and lies romance scammers tell:
- They’re far, far away.
- Their profile seems too good to be true.
- The relationship moves fast.
- They break promises to visit.
- They claim they need money.
- They ask for specific payment methods.
If you suspect foul play, be sure to bring in a professional and law enforcement to help.
Stay safe out there.