(Last Updated On: June 25, 2023)

Romance Scammers’ Favorite Lies Exposed

By Emma Fletcher – U.S. Federal Trade Commission

Scammers Are Liers! We All Know This!

Romance scammers are especially expert at crafting stories to lure and hold their victims

Romance scammers tell all sorts of lies to steal your heart and money, and reports to the FTC show those lies are working. Last year’s romance scam numbers looked a lot like 2021 all over again, and it’s not a pretty picture. In 2022, nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam and reported losses hit a staggering $1.3 billion.[1] The median reported loss: $4,400.[2]

These scammers pay close attention to the information you share and don’t miss a beat becoming your perfect match. You like a thing, so that’s their thing, too. You’re looking to settle down. They’re ready too. But there is one exception – you want to meet in real life, and they can’t. Reports show their excuse is often baked right into their fake identity. Claiming to be on a faraway military base is the most popular excuse, but “offshore oil rig worker” is another common (and fake) occupation. In short, there’s no end to the lies romance scammers will tell to get your money.

Romance scammers are great at telling stories and lies!

Romance scammers are great at telling stories and lies!

Reports show romance scammers often use dating apps to target people looking for love. But reports of romance scams that start with unexpected private messages on social media platforms are even more common. In fact, 40% of people who said they lost money to a romance scam last year said the contact started on social media; 19% said it started on a website or app.[3] Many people reported that the scammer then quickly moved the sweet talk to WhatsApp, Google Chat, or Telegram.[4]

You may have heard about romance scammers who tell you they’re sick, hurt, or in jail – or give you another fake reason to send them money. But did you know that many romance scammers operate by offering to do you a favor? They may claim to be a successful cryptocurrency investor who’ll teach you how it’s done. But any money you “invest” goes straight into their wallet. In another twist, they might say they’ve shipped you a valuable package (not true), which requires you to send money for “customs” or some other made-up fee. It’s all a lie. You send the money, and the package never turns up.

Top romance scams payment methods asked for by scammers

Top romance scams payment methods asked for by scammers

Reports also show that scammers who convince you to share explicit photos will then threaten to share them with your social media contacts. It’s called sextortion, and these reports have increased more than eightfold since 2019.[5] People aged 18-29 were over six times as likely to report sextortion than people 30 and over.[6] About 58% of 2022 sextortion reports identified social media as the contact method, [7] with Instagram and Snapchat topping the list.[8]

The way romance scammers take your money is another important piece of the story. People reported sending more money to romance scammers using cryptocurrency and bank wires than any other method: together, they accounted for more than 60% of reported losses to romance scams in 2022.[9] While not the costliest payment method,[10] gift cards were the most frequently reported – 24% of people who reported losing money to a romance scam in 2022 said it was taken using gift cards.[11]

So how can you spot a romance scammer in the act?

  • Nobody legit will ever ask you to help—or insist that you invest— by sending cryptocurrency, giving the numbers on a gift card, or by wiring money. Anyone who does is a scammer.
  • If someone tells you to send money to receive a package, you can bet it’s a scam.
  • Talk to friends or family about a new love interest and pay attention if they’re concerned.
  • Try a reverse image search of profile pictures. If the details don’t match up, it’s a scam.

Help stop scammers by reporting suspicious profiles or messages to the dating app or social media platform. Then, tell the FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/?orgcode=SCARS. If someone is trying to extort you, report it to the FBI.


Footnotes

[1]  This figure and figures throughout this Spotlight are based on reports to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network (Sentinel) that were classified as romance scams. Reports filed with the Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) prior to 2019 are not included in Sentinel. To ensure greater consistency in reporting trends over time, IC3 reports were excluded from earlier Spotlights about romance scams, but now are included in this Spotlight to focus on the scope and nature of the losses. Reported romance scam losses from all Sentinel sources by year are as follows: $493M (2019), $730M (2020), $1.3B (2021) $1.3B (2022). Because the vast majority of frauds are not reported to the government, these figures reflect just a small fraction of the public harm. See Anderson, K. B., To Whom Do Victims of Mass-Market Consumer Fraud Complain? at 1 (May 2021), available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3852323 (study showed only 4.8% of people who experienced mass-market consumer fraud complained to a Better Business Bureau or a government entity).

[2]  Reports provided by MoneyGram and Western Union are excluded for this median loss calculation as these data contributors report each loss transaction separately, which typically affects calculation of an individual’s median loss. As noted in footnote 1, reports provided by IC3 were excluded from earlier Spotlights about romance scams, but are included in this Spotlight. For this reason, this median loss figure should not be compared to previous Spotlights.

[3]  These figures exclude reports that did not identify a contact method. Of 2022 loss reports that identified social media as the contact method and named a specific platform, 29% named Instagram and 28% named Facebook.

[4]  About 40% of 2022 romance scam loss reports with detailed narratives mentioned WhatsApp, Google Chat, or Telegram. Detailed narratives are defined here as narratives of at least 2,000 characters in length

[5]  This figure excludes reports contributed by IC3 as not all IC3 reports about sextortion are included in Sentinel. Romance scam reports involving sextortion were identified using keyword analysis of the narratives provided in reports.

[6]  This age comparison is normalized against the population size of each age group. The analysis is based on U.S. Census Bureau data for population by age. See U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Selected Age Groups by Sex for the United States (June 2020), available at https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-national-detail.html. This excludes reports contributed by IC3 as not all IC3 reports about sextortion are included in Sentinel.

[7]  This figure excludes reports that did not identify a contact method.

[8]  Of 2022 sextortion reports that identified social media as the contact method and named a specific platform, 41% named Instagram and 31% named Snapchat.  

[9]  Figures pertaining to payment methods exclude reports that did not identify a method of payment and reports provided by Western Union and MoneyGram. Figures pertaining to bank wires are based on reports indicating “bank transfer or payment” as the payment method.

[10]  In 2022, the median individual reported loss was $700 when gift cards were identified as the payment method on romance scams. For comparison, the median individual reported losses on other top payment methods were as follows: $10,079 (cryptocurrency), $10,000 (bank transfer or payment), and $650 (payment app or service). The gift card payment method includes cards that hold a specific cash value that can be used for purchases and reload cards such as MoneyPak that are used to add value to these cards.

[11]  This figure excludes reports that did not indicate a payment method.

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.

Opinions

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Rleationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.

Disclaimer:

SCARS IS A DIGITAL PUBLISHER AND DOES NOT OFFER HEALTH OR MEDICAL ADVICE, LEGAL ADVICE, FINANCIAL ADVICE, OR SERVICES THAT SCARS IS NOT LICENSED OR REGISTERED TO PERFORM.

IF YOU’RE FACING A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, CALL YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY SERVICES IMMEDIATELY, OR VISIT THE NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM OR URGENT CARE CENTER. YOU SHOULD CONSULT YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER BEFORE FOLLOWING ANY MEDICALLY RELATED INFORMATION PRESENTED ON OUR PAGES.

ALWAYS CONSULT A LICENSED ATTORNEY FOR ANY ADVICE REGARDING LEGAL MATTERS.

A LICENSED FINANCIAL OR TAX PROFESSIONAL SHOULD BE CONSULTED BEFORE ACTING ON ANY INFORMATION RELATING TO YOUR PERSONAL FINANCES OR TAX RELATED ISSUES AND INFORMATION.

SCARS IS NOT A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR – WE DO NOT PROVIDE INVESTIGATIVE SERVICES FOR INDIVIDUALS OR BUSINESSES. ANY INVESTIGATIONS THAT SCARS MAY PERFORM IS NOT A SERVICE PROVIDED TO THIRD-PARTIES. INFORMATION REPORTED TO SCARS MAY BE FORWARDED TO LAW ENFORCEMENT AS SCARS SEE FIT AND APPROPRIATE.

This content and other material contained on the website, apps, newsletter, and products (“Content”), is general in nature and for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical, legal, or financial advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for licensed or regulated professional advice. Always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider, lawyer, financial, or tax professional with any questions you may have regarding the educational information contained herein. SCARS makes no guarantees about the efficacy of information described on or in SCARS’ Content. The information contained is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible situations or effects. SCARS does not recommend or endorse any specific professional or care provider, product, service, or other information that may be mentioned in SCARS’ websites, apps, and Content unless explicitly identified as such.

The disclaimers herein are provided on this page for ease of reference. These disclaimers supplement and are a part of SCARS’ website’s Terms of Use

Legal Notices: 

All original content is Copyright © 1991 – 2023 Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. (Registered D.B.A SCARS) All Rights Reserved Worldwide & Webwide. Third-party copyrights acknowledge.

U.S. State of Florida Registration Nonprofit (Not for Profit) #N20000011978 [SCARS DBA Registered #G20000137918] – Learn more at www.AgainstScams.org

SCARS, SCARS|INTERNATIONAL, SCARS, SCARS|SUPPORT, SCARS, RSN, Romance Scams Now, SCARS|INTERNATION, SCARS|WORLDWIDE, SCARS|GLOBAL, SCARS, Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams, Society of Citizens Against Romance Scams, SCARS|ANYSCAM, Project Anyscam, Anyscam, SCARS|GOFCH, GOFCH, SCARS|CHINA, SCARS|CDN, SCARS|UK, SCARS|LATINOAMERICA, SCARS|MEMBER, SCARS|VOLUNTEER, SCARS Cybercriminal Data Network, Cobalt Alert, Scam Victims Support Group, SCARS ANGELS, SCARS RANGERS, SCARS MARSHALLS, SCARS PARTNERS, are all trademarks of Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc., All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Contact the legal department for the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Incorporated by email at legal@AgainstScams.org