Even scammers are looking for love, and that’s very much a problem.
That’s the takeaway from an equally detailed and depressing warning from the Federal Trade Commission documenting skyrocketing incidents of so-called romance scams. The report, released the Thursday ahead of Valentine’s Day, notes that the specific type of online confidence scheme is on a dramatic rise, and that cryptocurrency is at least partially to blame.
“A newly released data spotlight shows that in 2021 reported losses to romance scammers were up nearly 80 percent compared to 2020, and the total reported lost over the past five years has now reached $1.3 billion,” cautions the FTC. “According to the spotlight, consumers who paid romance scammers with cryptocurrency reported losing $139 million in total in 2021, more than any other payment amount.”
Romance scams, as the name suggests, often involve tricking a victim into believing they’ve found true love over a dating app or social media site. The thief plays out the fictitious relationship online, always having some excuse as to why they can’t meet in person, until they ask for some form of payment — perhaps with the promise that the money is needed to finally travel to see their victim.
“The scammers’ stories might involve a sick child or a temporary inability to get to their money for a whole range of reasons,” the FTC explains. “People who lost money to a romance scammer often report sending money repeatedly: they believe they’re helping someone they care about.”
Facebook and Instagram, as one might expect, are often the common denominator in these types of scams. Specifically, according to the FTC, Facebook was the starting point for 23 percent of the scams reported. Instagram raked in 13 percent.
Credit: Federal Trade Commission
The FTC notes that for victims who paid romance scammers with cryptocurrency, the median loss was almost $10,000.
Notably, this type of scam existed long before cryptocurrency. In fact, perhaps as a testament to the relatively complicated nature of cryptocurrency payments, the FTC reports that in 2021 roughly a quarter of romance scam reports involved victims sending gift cards.
So be on the lookout — especially as Valentine’s Day approaches — for online love that seems too good to be true. Because if your newly found Facebook lover asks you to send them Bitcoin or gift cards, it’s probably a scam