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Looking for love online may cost you more than you bargained for.
Online dating scams are on the rise, according to a recent report published by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Americans lost $201 million to romance fraud in 2019, up nearly 40% from 2018. The number of complaints filed to the FTC topped 25,000, making dating scams the most reported type of consumer fraud.
“The most jarring thing is how quickly romance scams are increasing,” said Monica Vaca, associate director at the FTC, referring to the number of complaints tripling since 2015. “These are long-term scams that don’t happen just once because the people committing these crimes try to cultivate a trusting relationship with the victim.”
As more people flock to dating apps and websites hoping to find their soul mate, scammers are also on the prowl looking to take advantage of lonely hearts. The median loss to victims in the U.S. was $501 while victims over 70 years old were conned out of more than $6,000 each.
About 60 percent of U.S. adults consider online dating a good way to connect with people and popular websites like Match.com have seen people 50 and older become its fastest-growing user segment. Romance scammers tend to target widows and the elderly who are more emotionally susceptible to being tricked into giving their supposed love interest money.
“Romance scams can happen to anyone, but there are people who are more vulnerable,” said Clarie Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Metropolitan NY. “The dollar amount lost is just the tip of the iceberg because a lot of people don’t report these types of scams because they are embarrassed.”
Scammers are also getting more sophisticated by coaxing victims into becoming unknowing accomplices in other fraudulent activity. According to the Better Business Bureau, about 20 to 30 percent of romance-fraud victims are lured into becoming money mules, which essentially means committing money laundering.
“Sometimes victims can be asked to open a bank account or go pick up wired money — unfortunately, that money could be from other victims,” said Rosenzweig.
Dating services and apps have been more proactive in filtering out impostors to protect users by integrating more safety features, such as artificial intelligence and photo verification. But technology has its limits. Experts say that being vigilant of red flags is the best way to guard your heart and money.