Romance scams are growing in popularity in the United States, with a new report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claiming that victims have lost more than $1.3 billion in the past five years.
These types of scams became more prevalent in 2021, with reports increasing by 80 percent compared to 2020. Romance fraud schemes are also reported to lose more money from victims than any other type of fraud that the FTC tracks.
“Reported losses [in 2021] hit a record $547 million for the year,” the FTC wrote in its new report. “That’s more than six times the reported losses in 2017 and a nearly 80 [percent] increase compared to 2020. The median individual reported loss in 2021 was $2,400.”
One such case was that of Richard Dorpe, a Ghanian man who conned a woman in Chesapeake, Virginia, out of $300,000. He was able to pull this off by posing as a man named Jerry Linus on the senior dating website OurTime. The woman eventually ran out of cash and had to take out a home equity loan. Dorpe was later sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2021.
“These fraudsters know exactly how to play on people’s emotions,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Jessica Aber. “They use third parties to try to validate the stories that are being spun.”
Along with being able to pull their targets’ heartstrings, the FTC also warned that romance scammers often try to discreetly pass the blame onto other people by using them to transfer funds.
“The scammer often claims to need help getting their inheritance money or moving funds for an important business deal,” the FTC explained. “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.”
Linda Mbimadong and Richard Broni will be sentenced on February 18 for their roles in a scam that another Virginia man fell victim to. Prosecutors claim that neither defendant had any contact with the victim but helped launder the money in exchange for a cut of between 5 percent to 10 percent of the money received by the scammer.
“I have to express my ugly truth,” wrote MbimadongI in an apology memo before the sentencing. “I was selfish, ambitious and greedy for success.”
Aber hopes that people will not be as afraid to report instances of romance scams in the future.
“The best thing you can do is to report it so you can potentially stop some other person from falling victim to this kind of scheme,” she said.
Update 02/17/2022, 2:27 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with more information from the FTC.