Looking for love in the modern world is certainly complicated, and cybercriminals are using that to bring financial ruin to thousands of victims every year.
While some may argue that the internet has opened up new avenues for finding love, it can also cost lonely hearts a pretty penny – $143m in the last year alone to be exact, according to the Consumer Sentinel report issued this week by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In 2018, the FTC received more than 21,000 reports about romance scams totalling $143m in stolen money. The median reported loss to these scams is $2,600, which is about seven times the median loss across other fraud types. It is the single biggest form of consumer fraud identified in the report and is growing sharply – the amount of money lost per year has more than quadrupled since 2015.
Cybercriminals lure victims by creating fraudulent online profiles on both dating apps and social media platforms or by using stolen identities. Once the victim has been sufficiently charmed, scammers will claim some grave emergency has befallen them and ask for money. Many will claim to be in the military or otherwise stationed overseas, explaining why they can’t meet in person. Asking for money in order to travel to finally meet with the victim is another common ploy.
Older generation left broken-hearted
Most victims reported sending money via wire transfers while the second largest group handed over funds using gift or reload cards. “Con artists favour these payment methods,” the FTC detailed in a post about the practice, “because they can get quick cash, the transaction is largely irreversible and they can remain anonymous.”
Those aged between 40 and 69 were reported to be hit the hardest by these hard-hearted scams, losing money at more than twice the rate of people in their 20s. However, people aged 70 and over reported the highest median loss, losing on average $10,000.
Irish woman loses €48,000 in scam
An Garda Síochána has cautioned members of the public to watch out for these scams, reporting on cases where Irish people have been swindled out of thousands of euro.
In one case, an Irish woman was showered with lavish gifts such as scarves and perfumes before being asked to invest in her suitor’s business. Over the course of a 13-month period, the woman gave the criminal €48,000. She initially hesitated to inform the Gardaí because she was married.
“The extent of the scam is not fully known because many of the victims are too embarrassed to report the fraud,” according to An Garda Síochána.
In another example, a scammer based in the west of Ireland was found guilty of defrauding a victim they met through a dating website of €19,000 over a five-month period.