Romance scams typically start when you meet someone on a dating website or app. The scammer might insist on moving the conversation off the platform, claiming that they’ve fallen in love with you. They could say they live far away, possibly due to work circumstances or military service, and then they start asking for money, maybe for a plane ticket to visit you, emergency medical procedures, or other urgent needs.
These scammers create fake profiles on dating platforms and social media sites like Instagram or Facebook, and they work hard to build up trust, often communicating multiple times a day. Once they’ve gained your trust, they make up a story and ask for money. In 2021, people reported a record $547 million in losses to romance scams, an 80% increase from 2020. Gift cards were the most common payment method, and cryptocurrency payments were the most costly.
Scammers adjust their stories to what they think will work in each situation. Some common lies they tell include:
- They can’t meet you in person, possibly because they’re living or traveling outside the country, working on an oil rig, in the military, or with an international organization.
- They need your help to pay for medical expenses (either for themselves or a family member), a ticket to visit you, visa fees, or other fees to get them out of trouble. They might even offer to help you get started in cryptocurrency investing.
- They will instruct you on how to pay, often in a way that makes it hard for you to recover your money. They might ask you to wire money through companies like Western Union or MoneyGram, put money on gift cards and give them the PIN codes, send money through a money transfer app, or transfer cryptocurrency.
To avoid falling victim to a romance scam, here are some precautions you can take:
- Never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Stop communicating with the person immediately if you suspect a scam.
- Discuss the situation with someone you trust. Are your friends or family concerned about your new love interest?
- Search online for the type of job the person claims to have, along with the word “scammer.” Have other people posted similar stories? For example, you could search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer.”
- Perform a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. If it’s associated with another name or details that don’t match up, those are signs of a scam.
If you suspect that you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, take the following steps:
- If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, wire transfer, credit or debit card, or cryptocurrency, contact the company or your bank right away. Tell them you paid a scammer and ask them to refund your money.
- Report the scam to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
- Notify the social networking site or app where you met the scammer.
As for the percentage of romance scams in the U.S. that involve cryptocurrency, I tried to find specific statistics, but I was unable to find a reliable source within the time constraints. However, it’s worth noting that the use of cryptocurrency in romance scams is growing, and as mentioned earlier, these payments tend to be the most costly.