Victims of so-called romance scams online sent an estimated $547 million to perpetrators last year, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.
More than one-third of the people who lost money through those scams said the contact started on Facebook or Instagram, often through an unexpected private message.
That’s what happened to a Berks County man who lost more than $194,000 through an online scam, state police said Wednesday.
The 65-year-old Perry Township resident told troopers that a woman named Sharon Bobby reached out to him via Facebook.
Over a period of months, the woman gained the victim’s trust and requested help paying for the release of a large amount of gold as inheritance for her late father in the United Kingdom, troopers said.
Through months of communication via text messages, emails and phone calls, the woman and her attorney requested the victim make numerous payments for the release of this gold, troopers said.
Romance scammers, who also use dating apps to contact their victims, typically spin complicated stories to convince people to send money for health or financial crises. Scammers also use romance to lure people into sending money for bogus investments, federal officials said.
Troopers didn’t provide details about what payment method was used by the Perry Township victim, but scammers typically ask to get paid in ways that let them get money quickly and anonymously.
In 2021, according to the FTC, about 1 in 4 romance scam victims used a gift card to send money to a scammer. The most money reported lost — $139 million — was through payments made in cryptocurrency.
An FTC consumer alert this year provided the following tips for avoiding a romance scam:
• If someone appears on your social media and rushes you to start a friendship or romance, slow down.
• Don’t send a reloadable, prepaid or gift card; don’t wire money, and don’t send cryptocurrency to someone you met online.
• If you suspect a romance scam, cut off contact. Tell the online app or social media platform right away, then tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.