Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the FTC staff released a Data Spotlight highlighting the category of scam with the highest amount of reported financial loss among complaint categories the FTC uses to track fraud. The category may surprise, but here’s a hint. In the words of Bon Jovi, these con artists “give love a bad name.”
The category is romance scams and the statistics are staggering. In 2018, Consumer Sentinel – a central hub for consumer complaints managed by the FTC – received more than 21,000 reports about romance scams, with people claiming to lose $143 million to Casanovas and femme fatales. Compare that to 2015 with 8,500 Sentinel reports totaling $33 million in losses, and it seems clear that more scammers, swindlers, and catfishers are (we’ll quote Bon Jovi again) “Living in Sin” by stealing people’s hearts and then their cash.
Romance scammers are experts at the long con. To create the illusion of a love affair, they lavish their online inamorata with poetry and passion, often using dreamy photos they’ve stolen with a right click of a mouse. Once they’ve won the person’s trust, the sob story unfolds. Maybe it’s a medical emergency, a financial crisis while doing business abroad, or upfront travel expenses for that longed-for face-to-face meeting. But at some point, they all ask for money, usually by wire transfer, gift card, or a reloadable card like MoneyPak.
The Data Spotlight reveals some interesting nuggets. For example, people who said they were between 40 and 69 reported losing money to romance scams at the highest rate – more than twice the rate of 20-somethings. People 70 and over report the highest median financial losses at $10,000.
Why mention romance scams here? Because you may have a colleague or family member who has fallen in love with a person they have yet to meet. It’s a conversation that calls for sensitivity, but be a good friend and clue them into five ground rules for online romance.
- Don’t send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person.
- When conversing with online suitors, take it sloooooow. Scrutinize their responses and look for inconsistent or evasive answers.
- Check photos by using the “search by image” feature on a search engine. If you find your online love’s picture but with someone else’s name, chances are Mr./Ms. Right is really Mr./Ms. Wrong.
- Love can put stars in our eyes, but you still have to evaluate the facts with a steely gaze. If you have the slightest concern, talk it over with a trusted IRL friend.
- If you suspect a romance scam, cut off contact right away. Report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. And notify the dating site where you met the person.