2021 saw a significant increase in the amount of funds swindled by romance scammers, growing by nearly 80% to $547 million. And it's not just the Tinder Swindler who's in on the scam.
Love is in the air—or is it? Victims of romance scams lost $547 million last year, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
2021 saw a significant increase in the amount of funds swindled by false valentines, growing by nearly 80% from the $268 million stolen in all of 2020. The total reported lost over the past five years has now reached $1.3 billion.
Romance scammers draw people in using pictures stolen from around the internet, building false personas that seem just real enough to be true but always having a reason never to meet in person. Eventually, the supposed suitor will ask for money from the unwitting consumer. The median loss reported to the FTC is $2,400.
The reported median loss increases with age: people 70 years and older reported the highest median losses at $9,000, compared to $750 for the 18-29 age group.
However, younger Americans are not immune to Cupid's faux arrow. While reports of romance scams increased for every age group in 2021, the increase was most striking for victims ages 18-29—the number of reports in this age group increased more than tenfold from 2017 to 2021.
One reason why romance scams have broken so many hearts—or wallets, at least—is that Americans were lonelier in 2021. According to a government telephone survey of Medicare members, 40% said they felt less socially connected to family and friends than they did in November 2020. And 28% said they were more stressed or anxious, while 22% said they felt lonely or depressed.
How can individuals improve their social connectivity without being scammed?
First of all, take steps to improve mental health and social connection to avoid perceiving a scammer through rose-colored glasses.
“Having a single core principle of not sending money to anyone you have not met in person will keep most of the troubles away," advised Atlas VPN in its recent romance scams study. “If your romantic interest shows a negative reaction towards this principle—that's a huge red flag."
Atlas VPN advised Americans to harden their hearts when asked for money via gift cards, money transfers, or cryptocurrency, since “all of these are virtually untraceable, which makes them popular amongst impersonators."
In fact, the largest reported losses to romance scams were paid in cryptocurrency: $139 million last year alone, nearly 5 times those reported in 2020, according to the FTC. In 2021, the median individual cryptocurrency loss was $9,770.
While cryptocurrency losses were the costliest, the most common payment method for romance scams was gift cards. In 2021, one in four people reported paying romance scammers with gift cards; they lost a collective $36 million last year.
And while many people report the romance scam started on a dating site or app, it's not just the Tinder Swindler who's in on the scam. More than 1 in 3 romance scam victims report said it all began on Facebook or Instagram.
Have a happy and fraud-free Valentine's Day!
AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.