The FBI warned today that a massive spike of online romance scams this year caused Americans to lose more than $113 million since the start of 2021.
The scammers behind this type of online fraud trend (also known as confidence fraud) — which can lead to significant financial losses and devastating emotional scars — use fake online identities to gain potential victims’ trust on dating or social media platforms.
After the victims are lured in, the crooks take advantage of the illusion of a romantic relationship they project to manipulate the targets into sending money or financial info that later can be used for other types of fraud schemes, including investment scams.
“The FBI warns of a rising trend in which scammers are defrauding victims via online romance scams, persuading individuals to send money to allegedly invest or trade cryptocurrency,” the federal law enforcement agency said in a PSA published today on the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) site.
“From January 1, 2021 — July 31, 2021, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received over 1,800 complaints, related to online romance scams, resulting in losses of approximately $133,400,000.”
The FBI also provided tips on protecting yourself from romance scams:
- Never send money, trade, or invest per the advice of someone you have solely met online.
- Do not disclose your current financial status to unknown and untrusted individuals.
- Do not provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
- If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that—unbelievable.
- Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.
Over $1 billion lost to romance scams in 2019 and 2020
The 2019 and 2020 Internet Crime Reports published by FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) show that romance scams have tens of thousands of Americans to lose more than $1 billion ($475M in 2019 and over $600M in 2020).
The FBI also warned romance scam victims that they’re facing the risk of being recruited as money mules and persuaded to transfer money illegally on scammers’ behalf.
To further illustrate the scale of this ongoing problem, the Department of Justice’s website lists hundreds of cases where fraudsters were indicted or found guilty of running large-scale romance scam fraud schemes targeting US citizens.
If you have fallen victim to such a scam, you should immediately stop communicating with the scammer and file a complaint with the IC3 at www.ic3.gov.
You should also reach out to your financial institution to see if it’s still possible to stop or revert any financial transactions you might have made after the scammer contacted you.
The FBI and the FTC have also warned earlier this month of an increase in sextortion scams targeting the general public and focusing on LGBTQ+ community members who use dating apps and sites.