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The FBI is warning of a rising trend in which scammers are defrauding victims via online romance scams, persuading individuals to send money to allegedly invest or trade cryptocurrency. Three in 10 U.S. adults have used a dating website or app, including 1 in 5 Americans ages 50 to 64, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) said. In 2020 alone, reported losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million, up 50% from 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
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The FTC noted that reports of money lost on romance scams increased for every age group in 2020, with people ages 20 to 29 seeing the most striking increase, with the number of reports more than doubling since 2019. People ages 40 to 69 were once again the most likely to report losing money to romance scams. Meanwhile, people 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,475.
In an announcement last week, the FBI said that from January 1, 2021 to July 31, 2021, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 1,800 complaints related to online romance scams, resulting in losses of approximately $133,400,000. Similarly, complaints from romance-scam victims have spiked at AARP’s fraud helpline: reports of victims who gave away funds — or sensitive information — stood at 664 in 2020, an average of 55 reports a month. Through mid-September this year, the complaints rose to 798, for a monthly average of 93.
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“Scammers are really zeroing in on and taking advantage of those who might be lonely and seeking companionship,” AARP’s Mark Fetterhoff, an adviser in fraud victim support, said.
The FBI detailed how these scams work, noting that the scammer’s initial contact is typically made via dating apps and other social media sites. After establishing an online relationship, the scammer will claim to have knowledge of cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits.
“The scammer directs the victim to a fraudulent website or application for an investment opportunity. After the victim has invested an initial amount on the platform and sees an alleged profit, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money, further gaining the victim’s trust,” according to the announcement.
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The FBI further explains that after the successful withdrawal, the scammer instructs the victim to invest larger amounts of money and often expresses the need to “act fast.”
“When the victim is ready to withdraw funds again, the scammers create reasons why this cannot happen. The victim is informed additional taxes or fees need paid, or the minimum account balance has not been met to allow a withdrawal,” according to the announcement.
In turn, this entices the victim to provide additional funds. Sometimes, a “customer service group” gets involved, which is also part of the scam. Victims are not able to withdraw any money, and the scammers most often stop communicating with the victim after they cease to send additional funds.
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Furthermore, the FBI provides tips to avoid these situations:
- Never send money, trade or invest per the advice of someone you have solely met online.
- Do not disclose your current financial status to unknown and untrusted individuals.
- Do not provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
- If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that — unbelievable.
- Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.
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Americans in search of love on dating apps such as Match.com have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to criminals who pose as “perfect partners,” according to AARP. Don’t allow yourself to become another statistic.
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Last updated: September 20, 2021
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