Romance-related internet scammers had their most lucrative year in 2020, according to an FTC report.
Scammers use dating and community-oriented apps to build fake relationships with unsuspecting singles.
After months or years gaining trust, the scammers will use their unknowing victims to launder money.
Scammers are taking advantage of lovelorn dating-app users during the pandemic, keeping up fake virtual romances for months in order to ask unsuspecting victims for money.
According to a February 10 report from the Federal Trade Commission, dating-app con artists had their most lucrative year in 2020, with an estimated $304 million total, or a median $2,500 loss per person, amassed in scams on platforms like Tinder, NextDoor, and OurTime. That's almost double the profit of 2019 dating-app scams, the FTC website said.
Love scams, which the FTC found to be the most costly scam type in 2019, have become increasingly common as online games, communities, and dating services have grown in popularity. The record-breaking year for dating scammers comes at a time when pandemic isolation and resulting loneliness, anxiety, and depression are skyrocketing.
Internet romance scams target people over 50
"To be able to make that connection and do it remotely is something that may not have been possible a decade ago, but it's very much possible and socially quite common now for people to make love connections online and they're taking advantage of that," FTC analyst Emma Fletcher told CNN.
The over-50 demographic holds most of the country's wealth, making them another ideal target for such scams, Amy Nofziger, the director of the Fraud Watch Network at the AARP, told The Verge. Nofziger told CNN she's seen victims' losses range from $7,800 to $900,000.
In some cases, the scammers pretend to be rich and over 50 to make their personas seem more realistic.
That's what happened to a woman named Grace who was interviewed by The Verge's Zoe Schiffer.
Grace had met Scott, who said he was a businessman in the solar energy industry, on the over-50 dating app OurTime. As a retired widow with grown children, Grace was excited for Scott's online companionship.
He wrote her sweet notes, like, "It has been the most amazing few weeks of my life, getting to know someone as loving and caring as you. I am opening up to you more and more."
Grace also liked that Scott was financially well-off and had two homes and a Mercedes, The Verge reported.
But it came crashing down when Scott asked Grace to help him gain access to his own money that he couldn't get to because he was overseas.
How unsuspecting singles get roped into internet money-laundering
That's because Grace thought she was writing checks for money in a bank account Scott created and filled for her. In reality there was no money, the checks bounced back as fraudulent, and Grace found herself in the center of a $100,00 money-laundering scheme.
Scott's approach is a common way for scammers to get their supposed lovers to engage in fraud without realizing it, according to the FTC. They'll appear to send lots of money to the victim through a wire service, then create an elaborate reason why they need the money, which is actually stolen funds, back.
Medical emergencies, including COVID-19-related ones, are common excuses scammers use to get victims to send money, the FTC website says.
They'll also connect with people on non-dating apps like Words with Friends to mke the romantic connection seem more organic.
That's why everyone looking for love, not just dating-app users, should be wary of such scams, Nofziger told The Verge.
"These scams are crimes, but for some reason the victim gets blamed a lot. It can happen to anyone. These people are smart, they're educated. They just fell in love," she said.
A representative from Match Group, which owns Tinder and OurTime, told Insider that the company tells users "to never send money to someone they met on our platforms, and to report any individual who asks that they do. These steps are designed to stop scams in their tracks and help protect the next potential victim."
"Match Group has a dedicated team and sophisticated technology that patrols for spam and fraud including automated and/or manual reviews of each member profile to block IP addresses from high-alert countries, identify stolen credit card numbers and detect suspicious language in profiles," the representative said in an email to Insider.
A NextDoor spokesperson told Insider there hasn't been an uptick in fraud cases or scams on its platform "at this time" and that they "various detection and reporting capabilities to address scam content if/when it occurs."
"Our goal, always, is to keep members safe, and we have an entire Trust and Safety team dedicated to finding new ways to continue educating and protecting our members," the spokesperson said in an email to Insider.
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