The Federal Trade Commission revealed that a record $304 million was lost to romance scams in 2020.
According to CNN, scammers lurking on dating apps and social media hauled in the record amount by striking up conversations with strangers to build up enough trust to eventually ask for money.
The scam is one that has steadily increased over the past four years. Last year alone, there was a 50% jump in reported dollar losses from romance scams from 2019.
Apparently, the pandemic was no help and only made things easier for scammers by creating more “legitimate” excuses for why people may need money. Scammers can hide their real motives and use the pandemic as n excuse for why they couldn’t meet the person on the other end in person. Some would even claim they needed money for medical expenses.
The FTC says on average $2,500 was sent to romance scammers last year, which was more than ten times the median loss when it comes to all types of fraud, CNN reported.
Emma Fletcher, an analyst for FTC, says that social media and the rise of online dating services opens the door for scammers to prey on victims, and the scams are increasing.
“To be able to make that connection and do it remotely is something that may not have been possible a decade ago, but it’s very much possible and socially quite common now for people to make love connections online, and they’re taking advantage of that,” Fletcher said.
Scammers may invest months and sometimes years into building a trusting relationship with their prey. They may ask for money to purchase a flight, medical expenses, and/or debt matters.
Amy Nofziger, the director of the AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, told CNN that she’s witnessed victims lose $7,800 to $90,000. Sometimes the victims cash out their retirement funds or life savings under the assumption that they are truly helping someone in a time of need.
Ellen Floren, a 68-year-old woman from Chicago, fell victim to a romance scammer she met off Nextdoor. The man claimed he lived in her neighborhood, and the two began exchanging messages that felt innocent.
“He couldn’t wait to meet me. He was just so enamored with me. We had really nice conversations and all kinds of things,” Floren told CNN.
But it didn’t take long before she realized she was being scammed. Within four weeks, the man asked her for money so that he could watch movies on an upcoming international flight and then asked for $2,000 to replace work equipment he has supposedly lost in a cab.
“He just kept coming up with all these excuses,” said Floren.
The FTC says gift cards and wire transfers are the most common means of payment methods these scammers use because they are difficult to trace. The FTC also says it’s not easy tracking down scammers because, often enough, they are from overseas and use fake names and photos.
“Our data suggests that there’s room for improvement in fraud detection and prevention,” Fletcher told CNN.
Although there’s room for improvement in fraud protection, the most important thing to do right now is educating consumers on romance scammers by teaching them how to identify fake profiles and highlight the type of questions scammers usually ask.