Breaking wallets and hearts at the same time, online romance scams hit record high numbers in 2020!
While on one hand wherein the global COVID-19 pandemic along with social distancing measures and lockdowns led to more people realising the true value of communication and relationships, on the other hand, it led to a surge in losses fulled by ‘romance scams’.
Last week, the US Federal Trade Commission aka FTC in a recently published report mentioned how 2020 saw record growth in the number of people getting duped from this particular form of online scam.
Total losses in the previous year have been estimated at a whopping $304 million which is more than double from that of 2018 wherein the figure stood at $145 million. The average loss per individual in 2020 is being pegged to be at $2,500.
According to the FTC, the 50% hike in extra losses that were recorded in 2020 when compared to 2019 can be attributed to the pandemic which restricted people’s ability to meet in person and forced more users to date and meet using online impersonal communication platforms such as dating apps.
In a typical romance scam ruse, either the fraudster first sends money to the victim from some unknown source and then cooks up a story and urges them to send the money back to crooks or asks for money directly.
As a result, in such a scenario the victim ends up believing they are helping someone they care about without actually finding that, in reality, they might actually be helping criminals launder stolen funds.
In many reported cases, the money victims received and had to forward on mostly turned out to be stolen unemployment benefits, said the FTC.
Romance Scams: Beyond Dating Apps
Now, if you thought romance scams exist only on dating apps, think again! The FTC warned that fraudsters have been employing the same strategy on various social media platforms as well to target unsuspecting social media users.
The FTC added that the romance scams on social media often begin with an unexpected friend request or message from a previously unknown sender. Soon after, the scammers always ask for money by citing some wild claim such as a sudden medical emergency, or contraction of COVID-19.
The endless stories with multiple variants have only one goal – to create a sense of urgency in the victim’s mind so they can keep sending money over and over again.
The most common forms of transferring money from victims as noted by the FTC were gift cards which saw a whopping 70% spike from 2019 followed by standard wire transfers.
In 2020, romance scams weren’t just limited to the elderly who are more vulnerable as they are less proficient with modern-day tech platforms (age group of 40-69), but all age groups starting from 18 and above.
FTC reported that the highest average losses ($9,475) were mostly reported for victims above the age of 70. But, other age groups also saw considerable spikes in reports and average losses as well.
The U.S government agency urged that users remain more vigilant and share the FTC prepared romance scam guide with vulnerable friends or family members so that the efficacy of these scams get reduced going forward into 2021.
What are your thoughts on romance scams? Have you ever been subjected to one? Let us know in the comments down below. We will keep you updated on all future developments. Until then, stay tuned.