Beware this Valentine's Day: Romance scams cost Americans $143 million last year

Key Points
  • The number of romance scams has more than doubled since 2015, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Americans lost $143 million last in 2018 alone.
Young Woman Online Video Chatting With Man On Laptop In Living Room
AndreyPopov | iStock | Getty Images

Many people looking for love online are finding loss instead — roughly $2,600 in lost cash that was lovingly wired to an online sweetheart who mysteriously disappeared.

The Federal Trade Commission said this week it received a record 21,000 reports of romance scams in 2018, costing victims $143 million.

The median loss from such scams — $2,600 — is seven times higher than other types of fraud, the FTC reported.

Romance scammers will create fake online profiles using photos taken off the internet to lure people. They'll then portray those attractive, made-up personas on various dating apps and social networks not reserved for dating, like Facebook.

Scammers often dodge video chats or in-person visits by saying they're stationed abroad in the military, the FTC said.

Once relationships are established, though, the scammers will tell victims of a medical emergency or misfortune and request money. They might also ask for money to help pay for a visit.

Romance scamming has more than doubled in recent years and is steadily rising.

In 2015, 8,600 reports were filed, with a total of $33 million reported in losses, according to the FTC.

People ages 40 to 69 report losing money at the highest rates, and they are twice more likely to fall for the schemes than people in their 20s, the agency said. People over 70 report the highest individual median losses at $10,000.

Most people paid scammers through wire transfers and gift cards, according to the report.

The FTC recommends that people do not send money to those they've never met in person and to talk with friends and family members about potential concerns and do a reverse-image search of online acquaintances.