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By Kathy Park
As more people look for love on dating apps and social media, there’s a steady spike in scammers trying to warm their way into hearts and wallets.
Last year, consumers reported the most fraud losses from “emotional romance scams” than any other category of fraud, said Monica Vaca, of the Federal Trade Commission. “That’s $143 million that consumers reported that they lost in 2018 to romance scams.”
The median reported loss last year amounted to $2,600 — seven times higher than other frauds, according to the FTC. Most of that money was wired or sent with gift cards.
Federal data also show that people between the ages of 40 to 69 have the highest rates of romance scams.
One woman told NBC News that she was swindled following her divorce.
Connie, who asked her real name not be used for fear of embarrassment, said she began looking for love on the online dating site Plenty of Fish.
“I met this guy and he was supposed to be a doctor … and so he was very charming, he had the whole set up, pictures with the dog, his house on the beach,” Connie said. “And so we talked for about a week or two weeks.”
But what appeared to be a connection turned into a con. The man said he was taking a work trip abroad, and that’s when his actions became suspicious: He began asking Connie for money.
“He said you can send me $100 on (an) Amazon card,” she said.
Such requests for money, however, should be an immediate red flag, according to the FTC.
“You know as long as that spigot is on and there’s a little bit of money coming through to these folks, they’re going to keep trying to get some of that money,” Vaca said.
Scammers often use similar tactics to pull at heartstrings. The FTC said creative tales of emergencies and misfortune requiring financial assistance are common. Any plans to meet in person, however, never transpire.
Further investigation typically reveals the swindler’s profile is phony, the FTC said.
“When they take those photographs and they do a Google image search on those photographs, they’ll find that photo, and they will see it with someone else’s name,” Vaca said.
Connie fell into that exact trap.
“I couldn’t find him. I searched his Facebook and everything, and then I realized it was just a fake person, using somebody else’s pictures and everything,” she said. “I was very upset because it was a waste of time and energy.”
Victims are encouraged to report online scams to FTC.gov.