Romance scams in 2021: What you need to know plus online dating scam statistics
Feb. 5, 2021
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, and in 2019 alone victims lost around $201 million from being swindled by their cyber sweetheart. This just grazes the surface of online dating scam statistics.
We’ve rounded up 20 dating scams to consider, as well as romance-scammer-avoidance pointers to help 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 is 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.
Often, the advances start on dating sites or apps. But they’ve increasingly begun on social media, too.
20 online dating scam statistics
The unfortunate truth is that all too many people have been a part of this 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
- About half of all romance scam reports to the FTC since 2019 involve social media, usually on Facebook or Instagram. Interestingly, in the first six months of 2020 people reported a record high of losing almost $117 million to scams that started on social media. (FTC, October 2020)
- The number of romance scams people report to the FTC has nearly tripled since 2015. (FTC, February 2020)
- In 2019, more than 25,000 consumers filed a report with the FTC about romance scams. (FTC, February 2020)
- Confidence/romance scams were the second most reported crime to the FBI in 2019. (FBI 2019 Internet Crime Report)
- Nearly 20,000 people fell victim to confidence/romance scams in 2019. (FBI 2019 Internet Crime Report)
The real price tags of online dating
6. Total reported losses to romance scams were higher than any other scam reported to the FTC in 2019. (FTC, February 2020)
7. In 2019, people reported losing $201 million to romance scams. That’s six times higher than it was five years prior, at $33 million in 2015. (FTC, February 2020)
8. In 2018, the median individual loss to a romance scam was reportedly $2,600. (FTC, February 2019)
9. In 2018, the median individual loss to a romance scam was seven times higher than the median loss across all other fraud types. (FTC, February 2019)
10. Cryptocurrency scams tied romance scams for the highest median dollars lost at $3,000. (BBB 2019 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
11. Confidence/romance scams cost victims upward of $475 million in 2019. (FBI 2019 Internet Crime Report)
Online dating scams and older adults
12. Romance scams are riskiest to people in the 55 - 64 age group. (BBB 2019 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
13. Older adults reportedly lost nearly $84 million in romance scams in 2019, followed by government imposter scams at $61 million, and prizes, sweepstakes, and lottery scams at $51 million. (FTC 2019 - 2020 Protecting Older Consumers Report)
14. In 2019, 68% of the dollars reported lost on romance scams by older adults were sent by wire transfer. (FTC 2019 - 2020 Protecting Older Consumers Report)
15. Wire transfers sent in connection with romance scams accounted for about $46 million, nearly a third of the dollars older adults reported wiring to scammers. (FTC 2019 - 2020 Protecting Older Consumers Report)
Who’s most susceptible to romance scams
16. Romance scams have a 54% susceptibility risk to their targets. (BBB 2019 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
17. Women are more susceptible to romance scams than men. And following employment scams, romance scams are the second riskiest scam type to women. (BBB 2019 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
18. The Midwest is most susceptible to romance scams, with the median loss per individual amounting to $115. (BBB 2019 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
19. Californians lost the most to dating scams in 2018 at $450 million, followed by New Yorkers, Texans, Floridians, and North Carolinians. (NPR)
20. Californians were the most caught up in dating scams in 2018, with 49,000 people scammed, followed by Texans, Floridians, New Yorkers, and Virginians. (NPR)
Warning signs: Lies romance scammers tell
How can you tell if someone is a romance scammer? Well, you probably have a sense for what's considered normal behavior online. But it might be hard to see through an online dating scam when emotions are involved.
Here are some telltale signs a cybercriminal may be up to more than just 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 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 antics. For this reason, they like to gain your trust right away. 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 — neither of you are seeing other people anyway, right?
Many online dating sites offer some type of safety features and if you move your conversation off them to talk using text messages or other chat options, you lose those safety measures. 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 break promises to visit
Romance scammers want to keep their identities a secret. One way to keep you from questioning their identity is to 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 a visa/passport
- medical expenses like surgeries
- gambling debts
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.
They ask for specific payment methods
Be cautious if your cyber sweetheart asks 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 and remain 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
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 online on social media.
3. Approach online relationships slowly
The internet is 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
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 be viewed. 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 were used 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 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.
9. Ask someone you trust for a second opinion
When your emotions run deeply with someone, it may be 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, block their phone number or email, if possible, and report the activity.
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 money.
- Collect any records you have of your online relationship, including conversations and transactions.
- File a police report.
- Report the incident to:
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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