FTC Warns These Romance Scams Will Steal Your Money, Not Your Heart On Valentine's Day

A chalkboard with a broken heart in red and the words "Game Over" in white written across it.
Scammers are real pieces of...work (substitute any word you like) as they rarely display any scruples—they prey on the elderly, think nothing of wiping out someone's hard-earned life savings, and are opportunistic predators. That latter part is especially relevant right now with Valentine's Day upon us. According to the FTC, romance scams are all the rage right now, and lots of people fall victim to cold-hearted thieves.

"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," the FTC warns. "In 2022, nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam, and reported losses hit a staggering $1.3 billion."

That's an enormous sum (the FTC pegs the median reported loss at $4,400). As an alarming point of reference, a separate report by Chainalysis states that ransomware payments fell from around $765.6 million in 2021 to $456.8 million in 2022. If all these figures are accurate, then it means that romance scams raked in three times as much stolen money as the entire ransomware market last year.

Treat that as a rough reference, though—we imagine it's not easy tallying such figures, and ransomware payments can be part of a romance scam, resulting in overlap. Regardless, romance scams are far more lucrative than many people might realize.

The FTC says that while reports show these types of scams often utilize dating apps to target people looking for love, unsolicited private messages on social media sites are even more common points of contact.

"In fact, 40 percent of people who said they lost money to a romance scam last year said the contact started on social media; 19 percent said it started on a website or app. Many people reported that the scammer then quickly moved the sweet talk to WhatsApp, Google Chat, or Telegram," the FTC says.

Chart of top lies told by romance scammers, according to the FTC.
Top lies told by romance scammers (Source: FTC)

Romance scams vary, but all of them aim to steal a victim's money and/or identity. In some cases, a crook will pull on a person's heartstrings by telling them they're sick, hurt, in jail, or some other bogus reason for needing emergency funds.

In other cases, scammers trick victims by proposing fake favors, such as claiming to be a successful cryptocurrency investor and offering to teach them how to make money in the same manner. In other instances, they promise a valuable package if the victim will pay for supposed customs fees. But of course no such package exists, and these are not crytpo experts either.

Yet another type of romance scam is sweet-talking a victim into send explicit photos, and then threatening to share the naked pictures with their social media contacts if they don't pay up. This falls under the category of "sextortion," which we wrote about earlier this month. According to the FTC, these types of scams have increased more than eight-fold since 2019.

"People aged 18-29 were over six times as likely to report sextortion than people 30 and over. About 58 percent of 2022 sextortion reports identified social media as the contact method, with Instagram and Snapchat topping the list," the FTC states in a blog post.

Graph of the most common payment methods used in romance scams, according to the FTC.
Source: FTC

As for how money is transferred in these rouses, cryptocorrency and bank wires accounted for 60 percent of reported losses last year. Gift cards also proved popular.

The FTC offered up some tips on how to avoid romance scams. Those include steering clear of anyone who asks for help or solicits an investment via cryptocurrency, bank wire, or gift card payments; not sending money to anyone offer a package of any kind; sharing with friends and family about a new love interest to see if they show any signs of concern; and performing reverse image searches of profile pictures to see if they match up.