Romance Scams Surge As People Seek Love Online: FTC Report

Beware of finding love online this Valentine’s Day.

That’s the message from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which announced that romance-related online scams have surged recently and generated more financial losses for people than any other consumer fraud reported to the agency over the past year.

The number of romance scams reported to the FTC jumped from 8,500 in 2015 to more than 21,000 in 2018. And the amount of money lost by victims has quadrupled over that period — reaching $143 million last year. The average loss among each victim was $2,600, about seven times more than other fraud tracked by the FTC.

In Canada, there have been 760 victims of romance scams during the past year, with losses totaling $22.5 million, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Romance scams vary widely on the Internet and through email, but criminals typically find their victims online though dating websites or social media. Scammers create fake online profiles, often building a believable persona with the help of a photo of someone else and direct communication. They woo the victim, build trust with them and then take their money.

The reasons for money requests range from seeking help to pay medical bills to travel costs for a long-awaited visit. Some victims report sending money repeatedly for one false crisis after another, according to the FTC. The money is often wired or given through gift cards, which allow the criminals quick and anonymous access to cash that cannot be easily tracked.

The FTC reported that romance scams happened most often to people ages 40 to 69. Those 70 and older paid out the most money to scammers, with median losses per person of $10,000. The FTC said that romance-related scams have become more common and successful as people spend more time socializing and finding dates online.