They say, “you can’t buy love,” but scammers have figured out a way to exploit it for profit.
Romance scams are at an all-time high and, while victims cross all demographics, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that elders are increasingly targeted. Why? Because they often have retirement savings at their disposal and may be more be isolated and less tech savvy.
“Romance scammers often manipulate emotions to gain trust,” says Mark Kwapiszeski, head of enterprise fraud for PNC. “Those who fall victim end up putting feelings above logic. This can create embarrassment and, as a result, these crimes are less likely to be reported.”
Scammers will create convincing profiles on dating and social media apps, reaching out to their target feigning familiarity or attraction. Things move quickly, but there is always a reason they can’t meet on video or in person. They may claim to have a reason that requires them to be overseas or out of reach. They tell their target everything they want to hear, and the hook is set.
Suddenly, a crisis arises that they insist they need help financial help with to mitigate. Or maybe they need finances to set up a new life together. They ask for the money, but would prefer it be sent in a form like cryptocurrency or gift card where there is little chance of the victim ever recovering it.
Such scams are highly effective. In 2022 alone, romance scams resulted in $1.3 billion lost, more than double the money lost in the previous year, according to the FTC.
To add insult to injury, scammers may convince their target to send them revealing photos they will later use to extort them. They may even play the long game and build trust over time, then convince their target to invest with them, without the victim ever getting any return.
“A romance scammer can invest a long time in cultivating trust, which makes these scams particularly nefarious,” Kwapiszeski says.
To protect against potential romance scams, follow these tips:
- Before sending money or sharing financial information, consult a friend or family member. Simply talking to someone not involved in the situation is often enough to identify red flags.
- Trust your gut. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Beware of “love bombing,” when a person lavishes you with excessive flattery, affection and praise early in the relationship to manipulate your emotions.
- Be wary of strangers reaching out on social media.
- If you like someone, ask for a quick video chat. If they refuse or make up outlandish excuses, that’s a red flag.
- Stay alert to photos or biographical details that don’t match up with what someone’s told you.
- Use image and name-reverse searches to validate the identity of people you meet online.
- Never send intimate photos to strangers or invest without doing your due diligence.
- Confide in family and friends if you grow suspicious.
Elders have lost homes, emptied out retirement accounts and risked lifetime savings for a love interest that never truly existed. Once the shock abates and the money is gone, the shame sets in and some have even resorted to self-harm instead of admitting to being defrauded in this way. If a loved one falls victim to a romance scam, it’s important to respond with empathy.
If you believe you or someone you love has been a victim of fraud, PNC Bank’s web resources, as part of its Security and Privacy Center (pnc.com), can help. After taking immediate measures to protect yourself, block the scammer on all accounts, change your passwords, and report the incident to the FTC and FBI.
The best line of defense against romance scams is awareness. Understanding common tactics can help you stay protected.