There are a seemingly endless number of online dating sites to help people find the loves of their lives -- or just someone with whom to connect. Unfortunately, however, the people you meet online aren't always what they seem. So-called "romance scams" are more prevalent than any other kind of consumer fraud by a wide margin -- and they're becoming more common.
In 2018, Americans lost some $143 million in romance scams, with the median amount being $2,600. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that 21,000 people reported romance scams last year. The real numbers are likely much larger because many victims are too embarrassed to admit that they've been duped.
Anyone can become the victim of a romance scam if they're not careful. However, older people are most likely to be taken in by them. Many seniors turn to these sites after losing their spouses or simply because they're having trouble finding people their own ages in their daily lives.
According to the FTC, people in their 40s through 60s are twice as likely to be duped as those in their 20s. People in their 70s and older, however, lose the most money. The median loss for that age group is $10,000.
Not all scammers use online dating sites. Some meet their victims on Facebook and other social media platforms Others use dating apps.
So how do romance scams work? Once some trust has been established, the scammer gets the victim to send them money, often through wire transfers. They say they've had a medical emergency or lost their job. They may ask for money for airfare to visit their victim. Sometimes they ask for gift cards.
Scammers find a reason why they can't meet in person or even video chat. They may say they're in another country -- often serving in the military.
The best way to avoid becoming the victim of a romance scam is not to send anyone money or gifts. If some time goes by and you've still never seen or met the person, you have reasonable cause for suspicion. Don't rely on photos.
If you've been the victim of a romance scam, report it to the FTC. There's no reason to be embarrassed. As you can see by these numbers, you're not alone. It may also be wise to consult an attorney to determine what legal options you may have for recovering your money.