WASHINGTON - They say love is blind -- but you better keep your eyes wide open for scammers looking to run off with more than just your heart this Valentine's Day!
According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams reached a record $304 million in losses in 2020 -- up about 50 percent from the year before.
Romance scammers often create fake dating site profiles, or contact their targets through popular social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, or Google Hangouts, says the FTC. After meeting someone who's looking for love, scammers often build their trust by chatting several times a day before making up an excuse to ask for money.
Lies Romance Scammers Often Tell
According to the FTC, scammers will often say they're living or traveling outside of the United States. Scammers sometimes say they are:
- Working on an oil rig
- In the military
- A doctor with an international organization
The FTC says they've heard about romance scammers asking their targets for money to:
- Pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses
- Pay for surgery or other medical expenses
- Pay customs fees to retrieve something
- Pay off gambling debts
- Pay for a visa or other official travel documents
Scammers will also ask people to pay:
- By wiring money
- With reload cards like MoneyPak or gift cards from vendors like Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or Steam
Scammers ask you to pay by wiring money, with reload cards, or with gift cards because they can get cash quickly and remain anonymous. They also know the transactions are almost impossible to reverse.
How to Avoid Losing Money to a Romance Scammer
Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven't met in person, the FTC says.
If you suspect a romance scam:
- Stop communicating with the person immediately.
- Talk to someone you trust, and pay attention if your friends or family say they're concerned about your new love interest.
- Do a search for the type of job the person has to see if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for "oil rig scammer" or "US Army scammer."
- Do a reverse image search of the person' profile picture to see if it's associated with another name or with details that don't match up – those are signs of a scam.
How to Report a Romance Scam
If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Tell them you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money.
If you think it's a scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. Notify the website or app where you met the scammer, too.