According to the Federal Trade Commission, last year people reported losing $143 million to romance scams. This total is higher total than for any other type of scam reported to the FTC. The average reported loss was $2,600, and, for people over 70, it was over $10,000!
Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and apps or contact their targets through popular social media sites like Instagram and Facebook.
The scammers strike up a relationship with their targets to build their trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. Then, they make up a story and ask for money – lies!
We’ve heard about scammers who say they’re living or traveling outside of the United States, working on an oil rig, in the military, or a doctor with an international organization. They’ll ask for money to:
- pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses
- pay for surgery or other medical expenses
- pay customs fees to retrieve something
- pay off gambling debts
- or pay for a visa or other official travel documents
Then they’ll ask you to pay pay:
- by wiring money
- or with reload cards like MoneyPak or gift cards from vendors like Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or Steam
Scammers ask you to pay by wiring money, with reload cards, or with gift cards because they can get cash quickly and remain anonymous. They also know the transactions are almost impossible to reverse.
The Take Away
Romance scams have been around a long time. Here’s the bottom line: Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person.
If you suspect a romance scam:
- Stop communicating with the person immediately – don’t let them know that you’re onto them!
- Do a Google search for the type of job the person has to see if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer”
- Do a reverse image search of the person’ profile picture to see if it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up – those are signs of a scam.
If you think it’s a scam, report it the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. Notify the website or app where you met the scammer, too. If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Tell them you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money.
And of course, if you suspect any foul play and would like some guidance, we’re here to help.
Stay safe out there.