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Romance scams caused $230 million in losses to victims in 2016, reports the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) tracked 15,000 complaints of romance scams in 2016, a figure which is about 2,500 more than the total number for 2015. Most of these reports originated from victims living in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. In Texas alone, authorities received complaints from more than 1,000 residents totaling $16 million.

In total, the 15,000 cases documented by the IC3 robbed victims of $230 million.

FBI Special Agent Christine Beining says romance ruses net so much money because of the way the web and social networking sites like LinkedIn work.

As she explains in an alert published by the Bureau:

“The Internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be. You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people. The perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target. Then they use what the victims have on their profile pages and try to work those relationships and see which ones develop.”

In Beining’s experience, romance scammers commonly prey on older divorced or widowed women on social media. These con artists reason these individuals are computer illiterate and emotionally vulnerable. To them, it’s the perfect recipe to quickly fabricate a relationship and subsequently leverage it as a means of extortion.

That’s what happened to a Texas woman back in 2014. She had been in an abusive marriage for 10 years when she first met “Charlie” on social media. The two got to talking and soon became involved in a relationship of sorts. That’s when Charlie made his move.

As the woman told the FBI:

“He was trying to finish up a [construction] job in California, and he needed some money to help finish the job. I thought about it long and hard. I prayed about it. I’ve always been a very giving person, and I figured if I had money … I could send him some [money]. And he promised to have it back within 24 to 48 hours. I thought, ‘I could do that.’ It was kind of a statement of faith, too.”

The woman sent over $30,000 as part of a scam that overall cost her $2 million. This story is not unlike what happened to a woman who lives in Hillingdon. Both of them are lucky. At least they didn’t end up in prison because of the fraudsters.

These stories are a cautionary tale to users everywhere. Given the prevalence of romance scams, users who engage in online dating should take it slow and never send money to someone who they’re still getting to know. This is especially so if they’ve never met the individual in person.

Users should also be careful about what they post on social media. For helpful tips, please click here.

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