Romance scams in 2022: What you need to know + online dating scam statistics
February 4, 2022
As Valentine’s Day approaches, love is in the air — and romance scams are apparently everywhere.
According to the FTC, the reports of these online scams have nearly tripled in the past years — in 2020 alone victims lost around $304 million from being swindled by their cyber sweetheart. This just grazes the surface of online dating scams statistics.
We’ve rounded up 24 to consider, as well as romance scammer avoidance pointers to ensure your love at first swipe or click is legit.
What is a romance scam?
A romance scam, also known as an online dating scam, is when a person gets tricked into believing they’re in a romantic relationship with someone they met online. In fact, their other half is a cybercriminal using a fake identity to gain enough of their victim’s trust to ask — or blackmail — them for money.
Some of the most common online dating scams include these:
- Fake dating sites: Scam dating sites claim to be legitimate but are actually filled with scammers or
underpopulated. These websites are created to mine your information.
- Photo scams: Scammers will convince the victim to send their personal information in exchange for intimate photos of the scammer.
- Military romance scams: Scammer will pose as a military member likely deployed. They build trust by using military jargon and titles, then ask for money to cover military-related expenses, such as flights home.
- Intimate activity scams: Scammer connects with the victim on multiple social media websites. Once they become closer, the scammer convinces the victim to undress and then threatens them with the recordings.
- Code verification scams: Scammers will send a fake verification code through email or text, posing to be a dating app or website. Once the victim clicks on it, it will ask for their personal information, including Social Security Number and credit cards.
- Inheritance scams: Scammers will make the victim believe they need to get married in order to get their inheritance. In this case, they will ask the victim to help pay for something like airfare.
- Malware scams: Malware is also common on dating sites. In this case, victims interact with a scammer that sends them a website that looks legitimate; however, it's a page that includes malware.
How romance scams work
Oftentimes, a romance scammer starts on dating sites or apps. But scammers have increasingly begun on social media, too.
After connecting with the victim through a fake profile, they'll strike up a conversation and start building a relationship by regularly chatting with them. Once the victim starts to trust the romance scammer and believes they have a truthful relationship, the cybercriminal will make up a story, ask the victim for money, and vanish.
Warning signs: Lies romance scammers tell
How can you identify a scammer? Well, you probably have a sense of what's considered normal behavior online. But it might be hard to see through an online dating scam when emotions are involved.
If you want to know how to tell if someone is scamming you online, here are some telltale signs a cybercriminal may be the one sweeping you off your feet.
They’re far, far away
One of the first giveaways of a romance scammer is their background. Fakers often pose as someone who is stationed abroad to create a reason for why they can't meet in person. Some common stories include:
- They’re working on an oil rig.
- They’re in the military and/or deployed overseas.
- They’re a doctor in an international organization.
- They’re working on a construction project outside the U.S.
Since their story is so interesting, be sure to keep a close eye on any inconsistencies in it.
Their profile seems too good to be true
A legitimate dating profile usually has plenty of photos of the person in different situations, with one or two that show the person's whole body, not just part of their face. The individual might also include links to their Instagram or Facebook accounts.
In contrast, a dating profile might be fake if the person doesn't list any details. Or maybe their interests and hobbies just about exactly match yours — the similarities might be too good to be true.
The relationship moves fast
Romance scammers want to act fast before their targets catch on to their tactics. For this reason, they like to gain your trust right out the gates. Some common approaches include:
- They profess their love to you surprisingly quickly.
- They ask you to marry them.
- They make a promise you will see one another.
- They ask to move communications off of the dating site — you aren't seeing other people anyway, right?
Many online dating sites offer some safety features, and if you move your conversation off them to talk using text messages or other chat options, you lose them. Plus, the person will have your phone number, which could make it harder to cut communication.
In any event, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your conversations and consider the following red flags:
- The person’s messages look like they could be copy-and-pasted into any conversation.
- The conversation doesn't flow or make sense.
- Grammar and spelling are way off.
- They come up with different excuses when asked to video chat.
But they break promises to visit
Romance scammers want to keep their identities a secret. One way to keep you from questioning their identity is a promise to come visit. They may even have you pay for plane tickets or other travel costs. But they'll cancel at the last minute, providing an elaborate reason for why they can't see you after all.
They claim they need money
If your online love interest asks you for money and you haven’t even met them, beware. A romance scammer may ask you to send money for things like:
- Travel expenses like a plane ticket or Visa.
- Medical expenses like surgeries.
- Gambling debts.
- Family or personal emergencies.
And they usually have a sob story to back up their request.
An alternate money scam to watch for: They may send you money! This could rope you into a "money mule" scheme, whereby the scammer asks to deposit money into your bank account, distribute the funds to other people, or deliver packages. In fact, these requests could be tied to money laundering.
And they ask for specific payment methods
Be cautious if your cyber sweetheart asks for you to send them money via
- wire transfer.
- preloaded gift cards.
- a newly established bank account in your name.
These are ways to get cash quickly while remaining anonymous. Plus, the transactions are hard to reverse. Once you send a little bit of money, they might even ask for more. If you say “no,” their messages may get desperate and aggressive.
10 tips to avoid romance scammers and protect yourself
- Pay attention to red flags.
- Evaluate your online presence.
- Approach relationships slowly.
- Set up a phone or video chat early.
- Do your own snooping.
- Outsource their asks for help.
- Ask someone you trust for a second opinion.
- Stop communicating and report the incident.
- Send compromising pictures.
- Reveal too much personal information
- Pay someone you haven't met.
- Feel safe because you made the first contact
- Believe everything they say
- Buy plane tickets or gift cards
- Move communication off of dating sites early.
- Accept money from someone you haven't met.
Online dating scams can often end with victims losing money and, in some cases, even being pulled into criminal activity. Besides the financial costs, there may be emotional costs, too. You may feel heartbroken, depressed, or embarrassed after someone you trusted scammed you.
That's why it's important to know how to outsmart a romance scammer and how to act fast if you think you’ve been scammed.
1. Be aware of the warning signs
Simply knowing how a romance scammer operates can help you identify and avoid one. Remember some of the red flags and lies romance scammers tell:
- They’re far, far away.
- Their profile seems too good to be true.
- The relationship moves fast.
- They break promises to visit.
- They claim they need money.
- They ask for specific payment methods.
2. Evaluate your online presence
A few basic cybersecurity best practices can help protect you against internet scams. Consider that the more you share, the more scammers know about you — and know how to lure you.
For this reason, consider keeping your online dating profiles anonymous by using different usernames on sites or
even different emails to protect your privacy. Also, be careful what you make public on social media.
3. Approach online relationships slowly
The internet can be an incredible place for community, developing friendships, and sometimes even relationships. But it’s always important to take these relationships slowly, vet your new companions thoroughly, and be wary if answers don’t add up.
4. Set up a phone or video chat early
Seeing someone’s face can be a sure-fire way to determine whether they’re real or fake. For this reason, set up a phone or video chat early on in your communications with an online love interest. If they dodge the opportunity, they may be a romance scammer.
5. Don’t send compromising pictures
It's important to protect yourself online, so never send compromising photos or videos of yourself to someone, especially if you haven’t met them in person. These could be used as blackmail later.
6. Do your own snooping, like a reverse image search
In the age of social media and online dating, everyone has a digital presence waiting to view. Do your homework on your cyber sweetheart by viewing their social media profiles. If their profile is pretty bare or they have no connections, take it a step further with a reverse image search to see whether their photos are on other sites. To do this:
- Right-click an image of the person.
- Click “copy.”
- Visit images.google.com and paste the image.
Google will show you the websites where the image appears online. If it shows up on a stock photo site or seems to belong to someone else entirely, then it could be part of a scam.
7. Never pay someone you haven’t met, especially someone online
Don't give out your financial information, top off a cash reload card, or send gifts or money to someone you
haven't met face to face. Never wire money to a stranger or pay anyone with gift cards.
8. If they ask you for help, refer them elsewhere
Especially if your other cyber half is located outside of the U.S., be sure to refer them to a U.S. consulate or embassy if they ask for help or money. It’s a reasonable response, since authorities would be able to provide better help, especially if you just met them.
9. Ask someone you trust for a second opinion
When your emotions run so deeply with someone, it’s hard to face the reality that they’re not who you think they are. If you ever have an inkling you’re caught up in an online dating scam, step back and ask a trusted friend or family member to give a second opinion about your relationship. They may see some warning signs you didn’t.
10. Stop communicating and report the incident
If you’re suspicious or sure that you’re being scammed, cut off communication immediately and report the activity. Always consider the possibility of it being a scam, even if you contacted them first.
How to report an online dating scam
It may be nearly impossible to recover money after you've been scammed. But reporting these incidents helps federal investigators look for commonalities and may help lead them to perpetrators.
For these reasons, take the following steps if you suspect you’ve been scammed:
- Contact your bank right away if you’ve sent a romance scammer money.
- Collect any records you have of your online relationship, including conversations and transactions.
- File a police report.
- Report the incident to:
:- the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
:- the FBI at ic3.gov.
:- a dating site, if the scam started here.
20+ online dating scam statistics
The unfortunate truth is that too many people have been a part of a love story that never ends in a happily ever after. Some of the proof is in these online dating scam statistics.
Romance scams on the rise
Loneliness — especially during COVID-19 isolation periods — and the development of new technologies have contributed to the rise of romance scams in the past years.
- About half of all romance scam reports to the FTC since 2019 involve social media, usually on Facebook or Instagram. In the first six months of 2020, victims reported a record high of losing almost $117 million to scams that started on social media. (FTC, October 2020)
- Over 35,000 victims reported that social media was the medium or tool used to facilitate online crimes. (FBI, 2020 Internet Crime Report)
- The number of romance scams people report to the FTC has nearly tripled since 2015. (FTC, February 2021)
- In 2020, more than 32,000 consumers filed a report with the FTC about romance scams. (FTC, February 2021)
- Nearly 24,000 people fell victim to confidence/romance scams in 2020. (FBI, 2020 Internet Crime Report)
The real price tags of online dating
Romance scams can affect your emotional wellbeing and sense of trust, and can also be costly and irreversible.
- Total reported losses to romance scams were higher than any other scam reported to the FTC in 2020. (FTC, February 2021)
- In 2020, people reported losing $304 million to romance scams. That’s nine times higher than it was five years prior, at $33 million in 2015. (FTC, February 2021)
- In 2020, the median individual amount loss to a romance scam was reportedly $2,500. (FTC, February 2021)
- In 2020, the median individual loss to a romance scam was ten times higher than the median loss across all other fraud types. (FTC, February 2021)
- Romance scam was the top six riskiest scam in 2020. (BBB 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
- Confidence/romance scams cost victims upward of $600 million in 2020, the second-highest internet crime loss. (FBI, 2020 Internet Crime Report)
Online dating scams and older adults
- Dating scams can happen with people of all ages, but are especially risky to older adults.
- Romance scams are riskiest to people in the 55 – 64 age group. (BBB 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
- Older adults reportedly lost nearly $139 million in romance scams in 2020, followed by prizes, sweepstakes, and lottery scams at $69 million. (FTC 2020 - 2021 Protecting Older Consumers Report)
- In 2020, 68% of the dollars reported lost on romance scams by older adults were sent by wire transfer.(FTC 2020 - 2021 Protecting Older Consumers Report)
- Bank transfers and payments sent in connection with romance scams accounted for about $31 million, nearly a third of the dollars older adults reported romance scam losses. (FTC 2020 - 2021 Protecting Older Consumers Report) Romance scammers reportedly took an additional $12 million total in cryptocurrency from older adults. (FTC 2020 - 2021 Protecting Older Consumers Report)
Who’s most susceptible to romance scams
Online dating scams happen all over the world, but certain demographics tend to be more susceptible.
- Romance scams have a 45% susceptibility risk to their targets. (BBB 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
- Women are more susceptible to romance scams than men. And following online purchase scams, romance scams are the second-riskiest scam type to women. (BBB 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
- Californians lost the most to dating scams in 2020 at $120 million. (FBI, 2020 State Report)
- Californians were the most caught up in confidence/romance scams in 2020, with 3,110 people scammed. (FBI, 2020 State Report)
Stalkerware is trending up
The use stalkerware, a software that enables someone to monitor a person's device without their knowledge, is another facet of romance scams that’s on the rise.
- 86% of adults are unaware of stalkerware or have only heard the name (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
- Around 42% of younger Americans from ages 18 – 39, who currently have a romantic partner, believe their partner is at least somewhat likely to download an application to monitor their activity. (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
- Three in five of Gen Z and Millennial Americans, aging from 18 – 39, have admitted to stalking an ex or current partner online. (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
- There was a 63% uptick in the number of devices infected with stalkerware, amounting to more than 250,000 compromised devices per month, between September 2020 and May 2021. (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
- Men are three times more likely than women to use invasive apps to spy on a significant other. (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
- More than one-third of Americans aging from 18 – 39 believe it is harmless to stalk a current or former
partner online. (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
Falling in love can be great. But before you let someone steal your heart online, keep these romance scam warning signs and online dating pointers top of mind.
After all, you don’t want your love story to end in a cybercrime — everyone deserves a happily ever after.
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