If you're looking for love this Valentine's Day, scammers are hoping to steal your heart -- then your money. Romance scams generated more losses than any other consumer fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2018, the agency said Tuesday.
The number of romance scams reported to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database has gone from 8,500 in 2015 to more than 21,000 in 2018, the FTC said in a statement. Reported losses from those scams have gone from $33 million in 2015 to $143 million in 2018.
The FTC said the median reported loss was $2,600. Elderly victims were among the worst hit. Those 70 and older reported median losses of $10,000.
Romance scammers often find their victims online, the FTC said, often through dating websites or social media. Some victims say the scam started with a Facebook message. The scammers create fake profiles, even going so far as to use someone else's photo.
The scammers hope to get the victim's trust, get them to fall in love, then convince them to send money. One way is through wire transfer. Another favorite way is with a gift card. Scammers get the PIN from the victim and then quickly use it to get cash. The transactions are often irreversible and the scammer can stay anonymous, the FTC said.
Here are three tips from the FTC:
- Never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Talk to someone you trust about this new love interest. In the excitement about what feels like a new relationship, we can be blinded to things that don’t add up. Pay attention if your friends or family are concerned.
- Take it slowly. Ask questions and look for inconsistent answers.Try a reverse-image search of the profile pictures. If they’re associated with another name or with details that don’t match up, it’s a scam.
If you think you've been a victim or that someone is trying to scam you, you can contact the FTC here.