FBI Reports That Romance Scams Cost Americans $475 Million in Scammed Cash and Property
According to the US Federal Bureau of investigations (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) romance scams accounted for $475 million in losses last year. And that total is only for the 20,000 complaints reported to the FBI.
“The consequences of these scams are often financially and emotionally devastating to victims; they rarely get their money back and may not have the ability to recover from the financial loss,” says the FBI.
In 2015 The FBI received 12,500 romance scam complaints. By the next year, that number had grown to 15,000. In 2019 The FBI categorized 20,000 cases of fraud as romance scams in 2019.
Romance scammers use the information found online to help target their potential victims. For example, fraudsters may scan social media posts or corporate websites to find suitable targets who have the ability to pay them. The scammers establish phony online profiles to develop a perfect romantic partner persona. They may carry on multiple conversations with many potential victims thereby increasing their profit from this scheme.
Scammers can never meet in person. They may use excuses like work travel obligations, military service, inability to afford to travel to your location as reasons to avoid seeing you. In reality, the romance scammer may indeed be overseas, but regardless of their actual location, they’re not the person they say they are.
The only goal of their relationship is to gain access to your money or property and convince you to give it to them.
What is a Romance Scam?
A romance scam is a form of online fraud where the cybercriminal creates a fake online profile to pretend to be someone interested in romantic relationship. They open a conversation with the victim to establish trust. This type of fraudster always has reasons why they cannot meet in person. Eventually the fraudster asks for money, goods, or property from the victim.
Romance scams are also known as confidence scams.
“Behind the veil of romance, it’s a criminal enterprise like any other,” said FBI Special Agent Christine Beining. “And once a victim becomes a victim, in that they send money, they will often be placed on what’s called a ‘sucker list,’ ” she said. “Their names and identities are shared with other criminals, and they may be targeted in the future.”
In September 2019, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) charged seven Nigerians for their roles in romance scams, phishing email campaigns, identity theft, and business email compromise (BEC) schemes. The defendants created phony online personas impersonating US female citizens supposedly living overseas. They used these profiles to establish relationships with and then steal money and property from American men.
Victims of romance scams can often unknowingly be converted into money mules. This turns the romance scam victim into a money mule co-conspirator. In May 2019, the DOJ indicted eight US citizens and one Nigerian for their roles in various online fraud schemes. The victims of the romance scams were asked to send money to designated recipients. The fraudsters targeted their victims using dating website Match.com, Facebook, and Instagram.
How to Spot a Romance Scam
- Use Google to do a reverse image search
- Although you may be eager to find someone special, let things develop slowly over time
- Be suspicious of anyone who makes excuses why they cannot ever meet in person.
- Do not send money, gift cards, travel expenses, or prepaid credit cards to people you just met or have never seen in person