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Losses from romance scams hit a record $547 million in 2021, FTC says

The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said that it measured a sharp increase in losses linked to romance scams in 2021, bringing total losses over the last five years to $1.3 billion.

The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, which collects reports about identity theft, coronavirus scams, and other schemes, said Americans lost $547 million to romance scams last year, up from $307 million in 2020 and $202 million in 2019. The FTC added that these figures likely only capture a small portion of losses suffered by consumers.

“Because the vast majority of frauds are not reported to the government, this figure reflects just a small fraction of the public harm caused by romance scams,” the FTC said.

Romance scams can take many forms — more than one-third of the reports collected by the FTC began with a message received on Facebook or Instagram. Scammers may exchange messages with a victim for months to build up trust, and often invent stories about a sick relative or financial crisis to con a victim into transferring money to them. In some scams, victims don’t transfer their own money but are unwittingly convinced to act as “money mules,” helping to illegally launder stolen funds, the FTC said.

One trend that gained prominence in 2021 was the rise of romance scams that lured people into bogus cryptocurrency investments. About $139 million in cryptocurrency was lost in romance scams in 2021, according to the FTC, about 5 times what was reported in 2020 and 25 times what was reported in 2019.

Other payment methods that scammers relied on were bank transfer payments ($121 million), wire transfers ($93 million), and gift cards ($36 million).

Although reports about romance scams increased across age groups in 2021, the increase was especially prominent for younger people. The number of reports from victims between the age of 18 and 29 increased more than tenfold between 2017 and 2021. However, victims in that age group lost about $750 on average to romance scams in 2021, compared to $9,000 for victims who are 70 and older.

Adam Janofsky

Adam is the founding editor-in-chief of The Record by Recorded Future. He previously was the cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and prior to that covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technology for The Wall Street Journal.

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