CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – For many people who are seeking a romantic relationship on-line dating sites seem to be a safe and secure way to meet someone with similar interests. But for scammers, it’s a way to prey on vulnerable people.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) people have reported losing $1.3 billion to romance scams in the past 5 years, more than any other FTC fraud category. And in 2021, losses hit a record $547 million for the year. Those are the cases that are reported. Some people don’t report a romance scam out of embarrassment or fear they could be in legal trouble for aiding the scammer.

Scammers create fake online profiles and oftentimes steal photos and identities of real people they find on other social media. They learn about a person’s hobbies and interests. You don’t have to be on a dating app or website for scammers to come calling. They can hack into people’s social media accounts and reach out with friend or message requests, or “liking” your posts.

Once they have your interest they begin to build a relationship, making up lies about their personal life to gain sympathy such as they or a family member having an illness or legal trouble, wanting to meet you but they need money to travel. They ask you for gift cards. They ask you to accept mail or packages at your address that someone will pick up for them. Or they ask you to be a money “mule,” where they send you a check and ask you transfer money for them and then you find out the check is fake, leaving you responsible for the lost money.

Another scam is getting you involved in investment opportunities that often involve foreign exchange (forex) trading or cryptocurrency. The FTC says that the largest reported losses to romance scams were paid in cryptocurrency: $139 million last year alone.

Who are romance scammers targeting and who falls for it? The numbers show reports increased more than tenfold from 2017 to 2021 for people ages 18 to 29, with an average loss of $750. But the reported monetary loss increased with age: people 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,000.

Here are some things to consider if you decide to pursue an online relationship:

  • Nobody legit will ever ask you to help by sending cryptocurrency, giving the numbers on a gift card, or by wiring money. Anyone who does is a scammer.
  • Never send or forward money for someone you haven’t met in person, and don’t act on their investment advice. 
  • 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, report it to the FTC.