Love Hurts When You Get Scammed: Romance Fraud Tripled in 2020

If you're looking for love online, here are some tips for avoiding getting ripped off
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Over 30,000 people reported losing a record total of $304 million last year just by looking for love in all the wrong places, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

For the past three years, individuals have reported losing more money on romance scams than on any other fraud listed in the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Database. In fact, from 2016 to 2020, the number of reports that were classified as romance scams nearly tripled and the reported dollar losses increased more than fourfold. Yet, with a 50% increase in reported losses from 2019, the year 2020 stands out as a particularly one.

The question is, what caused people to lose more money to romance scams in 2020 than in previous years?

The Pew Research Center found that the share of people who have started using dating sites or apps has risen over time, and 2020 is no exception. In turn, romance scammers have learned to take advantage of the larger dating pool by drawing people in with fabricated online profiles, often lifting pictures directly from the internet and using made-up names. 

Others might even go as far as assuming the identities of real people. After scammers attract their matches, they make up reasons for why they can’t meet in person. In light of the pandemic, scammers have used Covid-19 as a means of explaining why they have to cancel first date plans or are unable to travel.

In addition to dating apps, even more people have reported that they were targeted on social media. While these social media users may not have necessarily been looking for love, the scam usually starts as an unexpected message or friend request and ends with the user sending money.

The FTC also reported that many of the largest reported dollar losses occurred after people thought that their new partner had sent them a large sum of money. This tactic is effective because scammers will claim that they sent money over for a made-up reason and then conjure up a story that explains why they need the funds sent back to them or someone else. This makes their victim feel like they’re helping out a loved one, but they may be laundering stolen funds instead.

If you’re looking for love online, here are the FTC’s tips on how to best protect yourself from scammers:

  • Never send gifts or money to someone that you haven’t met in person— even if they send you money first.
  • Talk to someone you trust about this new love interest and pay attention to whether or not your friends or family are concerned about this person.
  • Take your new relationships slowly. Ask questions and look for inconsistent answers.
  • Do a reverse image search of their profile pictures to see if they’re associated with another name or with details that don’t match up with their story.
  • Try searching for the type of job that your new partner has to see if other people have heard similar stories. Common vocations that scammers claim to have include working on an oil rig, serving in the military, or working as a doctor with an international organization.

Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is the author of “The Joy of $aving: Money Lessons I Learned From My Italian-American Father & 20 Years as a Consumer Reporter.” Jeanette is a regular contributor to TheStreet. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to “The Today Show” and a variety of other media outlets. You can follow her moneysaving tips on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: The Joy of $aving Community. Find links to her social media and her book at JeanettePavini.com.