The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says Americans once again reported record losses of $1.3 billion to romance scams in 2022, with median losses of $4,400.
According to previous FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network (Sentinel) sources, Americans have also reported losing $493 million in 2019, $730 million in 2020, and $1.3 billion throughout 2021.
“Last year’s romance scam numbers looked a lot like 2021 all over again, and it’s not a pretty picture. In 2022, nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam, and reported losses hit a staggering $1.3 billion,” the FTC said.
Scam loss statistics are based on Americans’ romance scam reports to FTC’s Sentinel and now also include reports filed with the Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) after 2019.
Unfortunately, these numbers reflect just a tiny fraction of the harm inflicted by romance scammers seeing that the vast majority of frauds are never reported.
Based on filed reports, the most popular platforms among fraudsters to contact potential victims are Facebook (28%) and Instagram (29%), while the top payment methods are cryptocurrency (34%) and bank wire transfers/payments (27%).
“People reported sending more money to romance scammers using cryptocurrency and bank wires than any other method: together, they accounted for more than 60% of reported losses to romance scams in 2022,” the FTC added.
“While not the costliest payment method, gift cards were the most frequently reported – 24% of people who reported losing money to a romance scam in 2022 said it was taken using gift cards.”
How to avoid falling victim to romance scams
This type of scam (also known as confidence fraud) usually also leads to devastating emotional scars besides inflicting considerable financial losses.
The crooks behind romance fraud gain potential victims’ trust on social media platforms or dating sites using fake online identities, and once they lure their targets in, they will take advantage of the illusion of a romantic relationship to manipulate their victims into either sending them money or provide sensitive financial info (which can be used for other types of fraud including investment scams).
The FBI also warned romance scam victims that they might get recruited as money mules and tricked into illegally transferring money on fraudsters’ behalf.
To further illustrate the scale of this massive ongoing problem, the Department of Justice’s website currently lists hundreds of cases where romance scammers were indicted or found guilty of running or being involved in large-scale romance fraud schemes targeting U.S. citizens.
The FTC says you can use the following tips to spot scammers in the act when looking for love online:
- Nobody legit will ever ask you to help—or insist that you invest— by sending cryptocurrency, giving the numbers on a gift card, or wiring money. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- If someone tells you to send money to receive a package, you can bet it’s a scam.
- Talk to friends or family about a new love interest and pay attention if they’re concerned.
- Try a reverse image search of profile pictures. If the details don’t match up, it’s a scam.
If you fall prey to a romance scammer, the FBI recommends stopping all contact immediately and filing a complaint at www.ic3.gov.
You should also immediately reach out to your bank to see if any financial transactions you have made after being contacted by the scammer can be stopped or reversed.