Love is in the air, but don’t let it cloud your judgment — or it might cost you.
Americans looking for love lost at least $143 million to scammers last year, according to reports filed with the Federal Trade Commission. While those reports accounted for only 1.5 percent of all fraud tracked by the agency, no other type of scam wreaked as much financial havoc as those rooted in romance.
“It’s a pretty small number of reports, but it’s No. 1 in terms of the dollar loss that consumers have reported to us. That’s really striking,” said Monica Vaca, associate director of the agency’s Division of Marketing Practices, which responds to consumer fraud.
Swindlers will often use fake or stolen identities to attract unsuspecting victims, a process known as catfishing. They lead their targets on, sometimes for long periods, building up trust only to abuse it.
“Once these fraudsters have people by the heartstrings, they say they need money, often for a medical emergency or some other misfortune,” the FTC said in a blog post this week.
Such deceptions, typically carried out online, have long been a concern, but the problem has worsened significantly in recent years: Americans reported just $33 million lost to so-called romance scams in 2015, according to the agency.
The number of reports more than doubled over a three-year period, too, to more than 21,000 last year.
The FTC data is not representative of the greater public, Vaca noted. It only reflects the often self-reported accounts collected by the agency.
The median reported loss to romance scams last year was $2,600. People ages 40-69 reported losing money to romance scams at the highest rates, but those 70 and older were hardest hit, suffering a median loss of $10,000.