Beware online dating: Americans lost $143M in romance scams last year

This Valentine’s Day, the Federal Trade Commission wants to remind hopeful romantics out there to be careful about possible scams – especially when it comes to online dating.

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Last year, the agency received more than 21,000 complaints about romance scams. In total, people lost a collective total of $143 million, more than any other consumer fraud type. It’s also a trend that’s steadily on the rise; in 2015, for instance, it received 8,500 complaints, with dollar losses close to $33 million.

Romance scammers often trick people with fake online profiles, typically lifting images of other people to make themselves appear more attractive. But although scammers are actively using dating apps, the FTC said they’re also present on social media websites like Facebook.

“Once these fraudsters have people by the heartstrings, they say they need money, often for a medical emergency or some other misfortune,” the report said. “They often claim to be in the military and stationed abroad, which explains why they can’t meet in person. Pretending to need help with travel costs for a long-awaited visit is another common ruse.”

The median individual loss to a romance scam in 2018 was $2,600 -- seven times high than all other fraud types. It also disproportionately affected older groups; people who were between the ages of 40 and 69 reported losing money to romance scams at the highest rates (more than twice that of people in their 20s).

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In order to avoid being tricked by an online fraudster this Valentine’s Day, the FTC advises people to never send money or gifts to someone they’ve never met in person.