Romance scams are happening more than ever. In these loathsome schemes, con artists use fake dating profiles to impersonate people looking for romantic relationships. The contact could also start as a friend request or message on a social media platform. The criminals ultimately persuade their victims to send them money via gift cards or wire transfers.
The fraudsters seem honest, legitimate, sympathetic, and friendly, but, ultimately, they are manipulative and use a person’s loneliness and sadness against them. The scammers will also mirror you to help sell the lie. For example, if you are faithful in your religion, they will ask to pray with you. Some con artists will make plans for the future, like meeting face-to-face or proposing marriage, but nothing they promise will actually happen. Eventually, romance scammers will ask for money. This may seem quite innocent, but it’s all part of the strategic ploy to steal your money or your identity. The FBI warns that if someone online asks for your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using it for other scams.
Though most of us consider ourselves too smart to fall for romance scams, for the past three years, people have reported losing more money on romance scams than on any other type of fraud, according to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Database. Last year, the reported losses for romance fraud reached a record $304 million, up about 50 percent from 2019. Many of those losses were reported by older people.
Adults 60 and older reported losing about $139 million to romance scams in 2020, a report from the FTC found. That’s a significant increase from the $84 million seniors lost to such scams in 2019. It’s important to note this is only what people reported to authorities. The actual losses are probably much higher. It's likely that many more older adults are bilked every year but are too embarrassed to admit they were hoodwinked.
Federal agencies and advocacy organizations are doing what they can to get the message out about scams, especially romance scams. The FTC’s Pass it On campaign provides fraud prevention materials and resources. Share the information with anyone you know who could be a target. AARP also has resources at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
If you know a friend or relative is talking to someone online, don't be shy. Now is the time to pry. Consider doing a reverse image search, because often the scammers will copy someone’s photo as part of a dating profile or pretend to be a real person with a presence online.
If you suspect that a loved one's online relationship is a scam, encourage your friend or relative to stop all contact immediately. If someone you know is the victim of a romance scam, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Here are a few steps you can take to steer clear of romance scams.
Be careful what you post and publicize online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to gain a better understanding of you, which makes you an easier target.
Research the person’s photo and profile using online search tools to see if the image, name, or details that the person is using have been used elsewhere.
Don’t rush the process. Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
Scams of all kinds fall into the category of “if you see something, say something.” If someone you love is looking for love, do what you can to help them avoid losing their heart—and their money.