Even love isn't sacred to some hackers, as new data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) showed that romance scams saw a sharp uptick in 2021.
Romance scams, as you can likely guess from the name, are not entirely unlike the popular MTV show Catfish, in which an adept online user tricks an unsuspecting, lovelorn victim into believing they're in love. Unfortunately, unlike in the show Catfish, these romance scams end in some serious financial hardship for the victims, rather than an appearance on MTV.
While scams have overall been on the rise in recent years, this warning from the FTC should be heeded by all, particularly if you're on dating apps this Valentine's Day.
FTC: Romance Scams Up 80%
The report from the FTC, which was released on Thursday before Valentine's Day, had some troubling stats about the state of romance scams in 2021.
First off, it showed that romance scam losses were as high as $547 million, which represents an 80% increase from 2020. This brings the total over the last five years to a staggering $1.3 billion lost to scammers that are looking for love in all the wrong places.
As for where victims were being contacted, the majority were on dating apps. Still, nearly one third of those that lost money to romance scams were contacted via Facebook or Instagram, so it's best to stay vigilant no matter where you are online.
How to Avoid Romance Scams
No one wants to spend Valentine's Day cancelling credit cards, which is why taking steps to inform yourself on how these scams work is the best way to keep yourself safe. Fortunately, the FTC went into detail about how these scammers lure people into their web of love-based lies:
“Reports show that romance scammers are masters of disguise. They create fake online profiles with attractive photos swiped from the web. Sometimes they even assume the identities of real people.”
As for the specific stories used to get money out of unsuspecting victims, the FTC dug a bit deeper, so you know exactly what to be on the lookout for:
“Romance scammers weave all sorts of believable stories to con people, but their old standby involves pleas for help while claiming one financial or health crisis after another. The scammers’ stories might involve a sick child or a temporary inability to get to their money for a whole range of reasons. People who lost money to a romance scammer often report sending money repeatedly: they believe they’re helping someone they care about. But it’s all a lie.”
If you really want to protect yourself online from any threat, romantic or not, your best bet is to check out some of our cybersecurity guides on password managers, VPNs, and antivirus software. In the meantime, keep those romantic funds in your account until you're sure it's true love.