Don’t fall for an online love scam this Valentine’s Day

A new report from the FTC highlights the telltale signs of suspicious online romance. Hot tip: avoid any crypto requests.
Woman covering face with hands in frustration while sitting in front of laptop on an office desk.
Online romance scammers like to claim they are deployed overseas in the military or need help with a family emergency. Deposit Photos

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the heartbreakers at the Federal Trade Commission recently released their latest report on online romance scammers and the aftermath of their schemes. According to the FTC’s statistics, almost 70,000 people reported falling for romantic scams amounting to $1.3 billion in personal losses. The median loss for individuals tallied up to around $4,400 per person.

As the FTC report details, con artists are constantly improving their tactics and are frequently scouring social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for personal information on their targets. As such, they approach their potential victims armed with quick, seemingly meant-to-be similarities. “You like a thing, so that’s their thing, too. You’re looking to settle down. They’re ready too,” explains Emma Fletcher, author of the FTC’s Data Spotlight rundown.

[Related: Cryptocurrency scammers are mining dating sites for victims.]

After approaching people via these digital venues, conversations often transfer over to messaging apps like Telegram, Google Chat, or WhatsApp. From there, malicious scammers try to elicit money, more personal details, alongside potentially explicit images and videos which they can then use for blackmailing—a tactic often referred to as “sextortion.”

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of payments sent to scam artists came in the form of cryptocurrency and wire transfers, given their highly anonymized natures. Other runners-up include gift card requests and asking for payment to cover a nonexistent package’s shipping costs.

The FTC conducted a breakdown of scammers’ preferred storylines via keyword analysis based on over 8 million romance scam reports resulting in monetary losses. Nearly a quarter of lies stem from someone claiming a friend or relative is sick, hurt, or in jail. Grifters also like to claim they can teach victims how to invest, are deployed overseas in the military, or have recently come into some fortune they inexplicably want to share.

[Related: Social media scammers made off with $770 million last year.]

Anyone hoping to avoid becoming a lovelorn statistic should abide by a few straightforward rules: First off, virtually no one is going to out-of-the-blue request money or investment opportunities via crypto or gift cards—swipe left if a suitor ever does. Vet your potential lover’s stories by friends and family to see if anyone raises an eyebrow, and trust those suspicions.

Lastly, the FTC also suggests a rather ingenious bit of amateur sleuthing if you ever start getting second thoughts: Conduct a reverse image search if a pursuer ever offers any supposed photographs or selfies. If the stories don’t line up, then it’s time to wade elsewhere in the online dating pool.