According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), people reported losing $201 million to romance—also referred to as “Sweetheart”—scams. Scammers will create fake profiles on dating sites and apps and target people on social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook. According to agingcare.com, the people most affected by Sweetheart scams are men and women over the age of 40 and often seniors—especially widows, widowers and recent divorcees.
The scammers strike up a relationship to establish trust by chatting several times per day, and then they make up a story and ask for financial assistance.
How Sweetheart Scams Typically Work
- Contact through a dating app, website or social media site
- Chat multiple times per day, expressing a love or friendship interest
- Share a story, often that they are traveling outside of the United States working on an oil rig, in the military or as a doctor with an international organization
- Ask for money, usually to pay travel expenses, medical expenses, gambling debts or for a visa or travel documents; typically they want you to send them money via gift cards through vendors such as Amazon or Google Play
How to Avoid Losing Money to a Sweetheart Scam
The FTC recommends never sending money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person. They also recommend that, if you suspect a romance scam, you should:
- Stop communicating with the scammer
- Talk to someone you trust and pay attention to friends and family if they are concerned with your new love interest
- Search the type of job the person claims to have to see if other people have heard similar stories (e.g. “oil rig scammer”, “US Army scammer”)
- Do a reverse image search of their profile picture to see if it’s connected to other names or profiles online
Reporting a Sweetheart Scam
To report a sweetheart scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint (or other sites like fraud.org) and notify the app or website where you met the scammer. Also, if you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away and ask if they can refund the money.