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The crooks hide on dating apps and social media, striking up a conversation with strangers until they build trust to eventually ask for money. The prevalence of these types of scams has been steadily increasing for the past four years. In 2020, there was a 50% increase in dollar losses reported by romance scams starting in 2019. The pandemic has only made things easier, creating legitimate reasons for crooks to hide their true motives, claiming that they can’t meet in person or need money for medical treatment. .

The FTC estimated that an average of $ 2,500 was sent to romance scammers in 2020, more than ten times the median loss for all types of fraud. With the widespread use of social media and the rise of online dating services, the possibility for crooks to prey on individuals is only growing, FTC analyst Emma Fletcher said.

“Being able to make that connection and do it remotely is something that maybe wasn’t possible ten years ago, but it’s quite possible and socially quite common now for people to do. romantic relationships online and they profit from it, ”Fletcher says.

Scammers often invest months, if not years, in building trusting relationships with their victims. They can ask for money to pay for a plane ticket, medical bills, or debt.

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

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

Like thousands of innocent consumers, Ellen Floren, a 68-year-old woman from Chicago, believed she had met a neighbor from Nextdoor, an online community center. The con artist impersonated a man living in her neighborhood and she said the two started exchanging messages that felt innocent.

“He was looking forward to meeting me. He was so in love with me. We had some really great conversations and all kinds of things,” Floren told CNN.

Within four weeks, Floren started noticing red flags. The scammer requested a gift card so he could watch movies for an upcoming international flight. Floren agreed, but soon after he asked for more money again, around $ 2,000 to replace the work tools he claimed to have lost in a taxi. That’s when Floren realized she was being scammed.

“He kept coming up with all these excuses,” Floren said.

Once Floren realized the scammer’s intentions, she immediately posted the scam on Nextdoor and on her Facebook account. She was shocked at how many women responded with similar experiences.

According to the FTC, gift cards and bank transfers are the most common payment methods used by online scammers, which can be difficult to follow. The FTC admits that it’s not easy to spot scammers who are often based internationally and use fake names and photos.

“Our data suggests there is room for improvement in fraud detection and prevention,” Fletcher told CNN.

So far, AARP’s Fletcher and Nofziger have both pointed out that educating consumers is the most effective way to tackle online dating scams. Teaching people to identify fake profiles by flagging the types of questions scammers usually ask, telling someone they trust about the new digital love interest, and trying a reverse image search of the scammer’s profile photos to detect if they are associated with another name.

Consumers can report suspicious profiles to reportfraud.ftc.gov or call the AARP Fraud Watch Network at 877-908-3360.

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