Lonely Americans were swindled out of millions in romance scams

Romance scams, in which a scammer fakes a relationship with a victim to get money, have become increasingly prevalent — and costly.

(Photo Illustration by John Phillips/Getty Images)

Talk about a bad breakup: In the 1st 3 quarters of 2021, Americans lost $343m+ to romance scams, per an analysis by Atlas VPN.

That’s more than all of 2020, in which Americans reported $304m in romance scams to the FTC, up 50% from 2019.

What’s a romance scam?

According to the FBI, it’s when a scammer uses a bogus online persona to build a relationship with someone they later con out of money.

Romance scammers typically lurk on dating sites or social media to find victims, and may be part of a criminal organization.

Common targets are lonely or vulnerable people over 50, often women. Scammers establish trust and affection, then ask for money — perhaps for medical or legal fees, debt, or travel expenses.

And they usually want it via some less traceable means, like gift or reload cards, transfers, or crypto.

Some common red flags:

  • They repeatedly promise to meet IRL, but something always comes up
  • The relationship escalates very quickly, even talking marriage without meeting face-to-face
  • They attempt to isolate victims from friends or family
  • They ask for financial info or intimate photos that could be used for extortion

Why the boom in romance scams?

One theory: the pandemic. People have a good excuse for not wanting to meet in person and have been more isolated than ever. A recent study found 36% of Americans are feeling “serious loneliness.”

Btw: Some scammers are brazen enough to do it in person, like John Meehan — subject of The Los Angeles Times’ “Dirty John” series — or Derek Alldred, who, per The Atlantic, scammed 12+ women out of ~$1m.

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