“That’s more than six times the reported losses in 2017 and a nearly 80 per cent increase compared to 2020. The median individual reported loss in 2021 was $2,400,” the FTC said in a statement. And the largest reported losses to romance scams were paid in cryptocurrency: $139 million in 2021.
How do these romance scams work?
Romance scammers draw people in using pictures stolen from around the internet, building false personas that seem just real enough to be true, but always have a reason never to meet in person. Eventually, the supposed suitor will ask for money from the unwitting consumer.
“On dating apps, the currency of trust is what is most often abused by scammers. They create fake profiles using stolen photographs and pose as someone else. Once connected, they may tout get rich quick schemes, especially cryptocurrency investment scams, to lure unsuspecting users into fake investment websites in order to steal their funds. Scammers may also seek out login credentials for national banks or peer to peer payment apps like Cash App, Venmo and PayPal. Additionally, scammers might claim to be in financial trouble and they may ask you to wire them money or send them gift cards. These are just a few of the techniques scammers may employ to steal money from dating app users,” explains Satnam Narang, Staff Research Engineer, Tenable.
How does it start?
While many people report the romance scam started on a dating site or app, reports of romance scams originating from contact through social media were also common. More than a third of people who said they lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 said it began on Facebook or Instagram.
How do they convince people to transfer money?
Romance scammers weave believable stories to con people, but their old standby involves pleas for help while claiming one financial or health crisis after another. The scammers’ stories might involve a sick child or a temporary inability to get to their money for a whole range of reasons. People who lost money to a romance scammer often report sending money repeatedly: they believe they’re helping someone they care about. “But it’s all a lie,” warns the FTC.
People also agree to help transfer money as a favor to their supposed sweetheart. The scammer often claims to need help getting their inheritance money or moving funds for an important business deal. Stories like this often set people up to become “money mules” – they may think they’re just helping, but they’re really laundering stolen funds. “People have reported paying all sorts of bogus fees to accept money that never turns up. Others say they deposited a check from their sweetie and sent some of the money as instructed, only to find out later that the check was fake – leaving them without the money they sent. Still others report sending money based on promises – later proven to be false – that they would be repaid,” said the FTC report.
The fastest-growing group of victims of romance fraud falls in the 18 to 29 age group
The increase was most striking for people ages 18 to 29. For this age group, the number of reports increased more than tenfold from 2017 to 2021. But the reported median loss increased with age: people 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,000, compared to $750 for the 18 to 29 age group.
A growing trend in 2021 was scammers using romance as a hook to lure people into bogus investments, especially cryptocurrency
People are led to believe their new online companion is a successful investor who, before long, casually offers investment advice. These so-called investment opportunities often involve foreign exchange (forex) trading or cryptocurrency. And when people follow this investment “advice,” they wind up losing all the money they “invest.”
In fact, the largest reported losses to romance scams were paid in cryptocurrency: $139 million last year alone.
That’s a remarkable growth in cryptocurrency payments to romance scammers: 2021 numbers are nearly five times those reported in 2020, and more than 25 times those reported in 2019. In 2021, the median individual reported loss using cryptocurrency was a staggering $9,770.
Most common payment method
In 2021, more people reported paying romance scammers with gift cards than with any other payment method. In fact, about one in four people said they paid a romance scammer with a gift card, and they reported losing $36 million last year.
So how can youspot scammers if you’re looking for love online?
- According to the FTC, nobody legit will ever ask you to help by sending cryptocurrency, giving the numbers on a gift card, or by wiring money. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- Never send or forward money for someone you haven’t met in person, and don’t act on their investment advice.
- Talk to friends or family about a new love interest and pay attention if they’re concerned.
- Try a reverse-image search of profile pictures. If the details don’t match up, it’s a scam.
But, can’t these dating apps deal with fake profiles?
“One way that the dating apps can deal with some of the fake profiles is by using a verification mechanism whereby users have to take a photograph of themselves using certain criteria in order to earn a verified badge and have the ability to message users. While this might seem like extra work and could prevent users from signing up, it would certainly lower the prevalence of fake profiles, though it wouldn’t stop some determined scammers from swindling others out of money by creating their profiles and building a fake persona outside of the apps as the Tinder Swindler did,” said Narang.
But for dating app users, if you do come across a suspicious account, use the reporting tool built into the dating apps to flag these profiles.
34% Indians don’t use dating apps for fear of being duped
Around 34% of Indian respondents don’t use dating apps as they fear that they might get duped by fraudsters, revealed a survey by Kaspersky. 43% of people also said that they do not trust people on dating apps. 27% of the survey respondents revealed that they were actually targeted by cybercriminals and 36% said that even after getting contacted by scammers, they somehow managed to avoid getting attacked.
Around 42% of respondents who managed to avoid an attack were able to identify a fraudster with a suspicious profile that eventually looked fake; 48% were extremely careful and never sent money to dating applications, 37% paid attention to suspicious messages and 29% revealed that they became suspicious when the scammer refused to get on a video call.