You're a heartbreaker.
Don't you mess around with me.
With apologies to Pat Benatar, our version of her hit Heartbreaker could join Love Stinks, You’re No Good, and Lips are Movin’ on our slightly skewed Valentine’s Day playlist. Maybe it’s the decades of dealing with deception, but February 14th reminds us to remind others that sometimes hearts and flowers can give way to hurts and sours – and reports in the FTC Consumer Sentinel Database support what we’re saying.
Romance scams are on the uptick. The low-down scoundrels who perpetrate them prove that maybe money can’t buy you love, but “love” is certainly earning them money. According to new data, the number of romance scams people report to the FTC has nearly tripled since 2015 and they pack a wallop in the wallet. The total amount of money people reported losing to romance scams in 2019 is six times higher than it was five years ago – from $33 million lost in 2015 to $201 million in 2019. In fact, for the past two years, romance scams have topped the charts with people reporting to the FTC more money lost to romance scams than any other form of fraud.
It starts innocently enough on an online dating site or social media. Hiding behind fake profiles that often hijack the photos and identities of real people, romance scammers reach out with a concocted connection or a flattering flirt. The good ones start slow, spinning a sympathetic story of, say, a doctor, servicemember, or business person living abroad. Then the communication gets more personal, filled with compliments and sweet nothings.
But some point, those sweet nothings turn into a sweet something – and that something is almost always a request for money. Maybe there’s a story about a family emergency, a sick child, legal fees, an unexpected business expense, or even travel costs to finally meet. But they invariably ask their love interest to send cash or presents, wire money, or buy gift cards and send them the PIN.
If that happens, pull the plug. It’s a scam.
Why are we mentioning this in the Business Blog? Because even street-smart business people have become entangled in a romance scammer’s net. A telling statistic: Consumers between 40 to 69 report losing money to romance scams at the highest rates. And even if you haven’t been targeted by a romance scammer, chances are a friend or family member has.
If someone tells you about a new love they have yet to meet:
- Share What You Need to Know About Romance Scams and this video from the FTC.
- Suggest some eye-opening online searches – for example, “military scammer” or “doctor scammer.”
- Show them how to do a reverse image search to determine if photos have been lifted from another source.
- Remind them never to wire cash or send a gift card or PIN to anyone they haven’t met in person. Period.
- The minute an online love mentions money, advise them to cut off all communication and report the episode to the FTC.
Oh – and Happy Valentine’s Day.