Scam artists lurking on dating apps and social media made away with a record haul in 2020

By Shirin Ali, CNN

(CNN) — We expect love to have an emotional impact on us, but a new report released by the Federal Trade Commission revealed it’s also hurting wallets. A record $304 million was reported lost to romance scams in 2020.

Scammers lurk on dating apps and social media, striking up conversation with strangers until they build up trust to eventually ask for money. The prevalence of these types of scams has been steadily rising for the past four years. In 2020, there was a 50% jump in reported dollar losses from romance scams from 2019. The pandemic has only made things easier, creating legitimate reasons for scammers to hide their real motives, claiming they cannot meet in person or need money for medical treatment.

The FTC estimated on average $2,500 was sent to romance scammers in 2020, more than ten times the median loss across all fraud types. Given the rampant use of social media and rise of online dating services, the opportunity for scammers to prey on individuals is only growing, explained Emma Fletcher, an analyst at the FTC.

“To be able to make that connection and do it remotely is something that may not have been possible a decade ago, but it’s very much possible and socially quite common now for people to make love connections online and they’re taking advantage of that,” Fletcher said.

Scammers often invest months and even years into building trusting relationships with their victims. They may ask for money to pay for a plane ticket, medical expenses or debts.

Amy Nofizger, director of the AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, told CNN she’s seen victims’ losses range from $7,800 to $900,000. In some cases, victims end up cashing out their retirement funds or life savings under the assumption they are honestly helping somebody they care for and who needs help.

Nofziger said that victims of scammers are simply trying to find a genuine connection with someone and that they are, “smart, educated, wordly people; they just fell in love.”

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