Americans lost over $500 million to online romance scams last year

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Scammers managed to swindle a record $547 million out of Americans looking for love online last year, official reports have revealed.

Just in time for Valentines Day, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released a new report revealing that Americans have reported losing a staggering $1.3 billion to romance scams over the past five years, more than any other fraud category tracked by the FTC.

Just like with other fraudsters, romance scammers often create fake profiles with attractive photos stolen online that they use to trick potential victims and sometimes they'll even assume the identities of real people to appear even more believable.

Romance as a lure

While many victims reported being contacted on dating apps, others received unexpected private messages on social media platforms with more than a third of people who lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 saying that it began on either Facebook or Instagram.

In order to con people into handing over their hard-earned cash, romance scammers concoct all sorts of believable stories, such as pleas for help while claiming one financial or health crisis after another, or a sick child or a temporary inability to get their money for a variety of reasons. 

A growing trend observed last year by the FTC involved scammers using romance as a hook to lure victims into bogus investments, many of which involved cryptocurrency.

After making victims believe they are a successful investor, scammers provide those looking for love with investment opportunities that often involve foreign exchange (forex) trading or cryptocurrency. However, following the scammer's advice often leads to victims losing all of the money they've invested.

In 2021, the largest reported losses to romance scams were paid in cryptocurrency and amounted to $139m. At the same time though, more people reported paying romance scammers with gift cards than with any other payment method. In fact, around one in four people said they paid a romance scammer with a gift card and they reported losing $36m last year.

To avoid falling victim to romance scams online, the FTC recommends that people never send or forward money to someone they haven't met in person and avoid acting on their investment advice. However, it's also worth doing a reverse-image search of their profile pictures to ensure they are who they say they are.

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.