Romance scams in 2021: What you need to know plus online dating scam statistics (2023)

As Valentine’s Day approaches, love is in the air —and romance scams are apparently everywhere.

According to the FTC, the reports of these online scams havenearly tripled in the past years — in 2020 alone victims lost around $304 million from being swindled bytheir cyber sweetheart. This just grazes the surface of online dating scams statistics.

We’ve rounded up 24 to consider, as well asromance scammer avoidance pointers to ensure your love at first swipe or clickis legit.

What is a romance scam?

A romance scam, also known as an onlinedating scam, is when a person gets tricked into believing they’re in aromantic relationship with someone they met online. In fact, their other halfis a cybercriminal using a fake identity to gain enough of their victim’s trustto ask — or blackmail — them for money.

Some of the most commononline dating scams include these:

  • Fake dating sites: Scamdating sites claim to be legitimate but are actually filled with scammers or
    underpopulated. These websites are created to mine your information.
  • Photo scams: Scammers will convince the victim to send their personal information in exchange for intimate photos of the scammer.
  • Military romance scams: Scammer will pose as a military member likely deployed. They build trust by using military jargon and titles, then ask for money to cover military-related expenses, such as flights home.
  • Intimate activity scams: Scammer connects with the victim on multiple social media websites. Once they become closer, the scammer convinces the victim to undress and then threatens them with the recordings.
  • Code verification scams: Scammers will send a fake verification code through email or text, posing to be a dating app or website. Once the victim clicks on it, it will ask for their personal information, including Social Security Number and credit cards.
  • Inheritance scams: Scammers will make the victim believe they need to get married in order to get their inheritance. In this case, they will ask the victim to help pay for something like airfare.
  • Malware scams: Malware is also common on dating sites. In this case, victims interact with a scammer that sends them a website that looks legitimate; however, it's a page that includes malware.

How romance scams work

Oftentimes, a romance scammer starts on dating sites orapps. But scammers have increasingly begun on social media, too.

After connecting with the victimthrough a fake profile, they'll strike up a conversation and start building arelationship by regularly chatting with them. Once the victim starts to trustthe romance scammer and believes theyhave a truthful relationship, the cybercriminal will make up a story, ask thevictim for money, and vanish.

Warning signs: Lies romance scammers tell

How canyou identify a scammer? Well, you probably have asense of what's considered normal behavior online. But it might be hard to seethrough an online dating scam whenemotions are involved.


If you want to know how to tell if someone is scamming you online,here are some telltale signs a cybercriminal may be the one sweeping you offyour feet.

They’re far, far away

One of the first giveaways ofa romance scammer is their background.Fakers often pose as someone who is stationed abroad to create a reason for whythey can't meet in person. Some common stories include:

  • They’re working on an oilrig.
  • They’re in the militaryand/or deployed overseas.
  • They’re a doctor in an international organization.
  • They’re working on a construction project outside the U.S.

Since their story is sointeresting, be sure to keep a close eye on any inconsistencies in it.

Their profile seems too good to be true

A legitimate dating profileusually has plenty of photos of the person in different situations, with one ortwo that show the person's whole body, not just part of their face. Theindividual might also include links to their Instagram or Facebook accounts.

In contrast, a dating profilemight be fake if the person doesn't list any details. Or maybe their interestsand hobbies just about exactly match yours — the similarities might be too goodto be true.

The relationship movesfast

Romance scammers want to act fastbefore their targets catch on to their tactics. For this reason, they like togain your trust right out the gates. Some common approaches include:

  • They profess their love to you surprisinglyquickly.
  • They ask you to marry them.
  • They make a promise you will see oneanother.
  • They ask to move communications off of thedating site — you aren't seeing other people anyway, right?

Many online dating sitesoffer some safety features, and if you moveyour conversation off them to talk using text messages or other chat options,you lose them. Plus, the person will have your phone number, which could makeit harder to cut communication.

In any event, it’s a goodidea to pay attention to your conversations and consider the following red flags:

  • The person’s messages looklike they could be copy-and-pasted into any conversation.
  • The conversation doesn't flowor make sense.
  • Grammar and spelling are wayoff.
  • They come up with differentexcuses when asked to video chat.

But they break promises to visit

Romancescammers want to keep theiridentities a secret. One way to keep you from questioning their identity is apromise to come visit. They may even have you pay for plane tickets or othertravel costs. But they'll cancel at the last minute, providing an elaboratereason for why they can't see you after all.

They claim they needmoney

If your online love interestasks you for money and you haven’t even met them, beware. A romance scammer mayask you to send money for things like:

(Video) 5 New Online Dating Scams

  • Travel expenses like a planeticket or Visa.
  • Medical expenses likesurgeries.
  • Gambling debts.
  • Family or personalemergencies.

And they usually have a sobstory to back up their request.

An alternate money scam towatch for: They may send you money! This could rope you into a "moneymule" scheme, whereby the scammer asks to deposit money into your bankaccount, distribute the funds to other people, or deliver packages. In fact,these requests could be tied to money laundering.

And they ask forspecific payment methods

Be cautious if your cybersweetheart asks for you to send them money via

  • wire transfer.
  • preloaded gift cards.
  • a newly established bank account in your name.

These are ways to get cashquickly while remaining anonymous. Plus, the transactions are hard to reverse.Once you send a little bit of money, they might even ask for more. If you say“no,” their messages may get desperate and aggressive.

10 tips to avoid romancescammers and protect yourself


  • Pay attention to redflags.
  • Evaluate your onlinepresence.
  • Approach relationshipsslowly.
  • Set up a phone or videochat early.
  • Do your own snooping.
  • Outsource their asks forhelp.
  • Ask someone you trust fora second opinion.
  • Stop communicating andreport the incident.


  • Send compromisingpictures.
  • Reveal too much personalinformation
  • Pay someone you haven'tmet.
  • Feel safe because youmade the first contact
  • Believe everything they say
  • Buy plane tickets or giftcards
  • Move communication off ofdating sites early.
  • Accept money from someoneyou haven't met.

Online dating scams can often end with victimslosing money and, in some cases, even being pulled into criminal activity.Besides the financial costs, there may be emotional costs, too. You may feelheartbroken, depressed, or embarrassed after someone you trusted scammed you.

That's why it's important toknow how to outsmart a romance scammer and how to act fast if you think you’ve been scammed.

1. Be aware of the warning signs

Simply knowing how a romance scammer operates can help youidentify and avoid one. Remember some of the red flags and lies romance scammers tell:

  • They’re far, far away.
  • Their profile seems too goodto be true.
  • The relationship moves fast.
  • They break promises to visit.
  • They claim they need money.
  • They ask for specific paymentmethods.

2. Evaluate your online presence

A few basic cybersecurity bestpractices can help protect you against internet scams.Consider that the more you share, the more scammers know about you — and knowhow to lure you.

(Video) 10 Common Things Romance Scammers Say.

For this reason, consider keepingyour online dating profiles anonymous by using different usernames on sites or
even different emails to protect your privacy. Also, be careful what you makepublic on social media.

3. Approach online relationships slowly

The internet can be an incredible place forcommunity, developing friendships, and sometimes even relationships. But it’salways important to take these relationships slowly, vet your new companionsthoroughly, and be wary if answers don’t add up.

4. Set up a phone or video chat early

Seeing someone’s face can bea sure-fire way to determine whether they’re real or fake. For this reason, setup a phone or video chat early on in your communications with an online loveinterest. If they dodge the opportunity, they may be a romance scammer.

5. Don’t send compromising pictures

It's important to protect yourself online, so never send compromising photos or videos of yourself tosomeone, especially if you haven’t met them in person. These could be used asblackmail later.

6. Do your own snooping, like a reverseimage search

In the age of social media and onlinedating, everyone has a digital presence waiting to view. Do your homework onyour cyber sweetheart by viewing their social media profiles. If their profileis pretty bare or they have no connections, take it a step further with areverse image search to see whether their photos are on other sites. To dothis:

  • Right-clickan image of the person.
  • Click“copy.”
  • and paste the image.

Google will show you the websites where theimage appears online. If it shows up on a stock photo site or seems to belongto someone else entirely, then it could be part of a scam.

7. Never pay someone you haven’t met,especially someone online

Don't give out your financialinformation, top off a cash reload card, or send gifts or money to someone you
haven't met face to face. Never wire money to a stranger or pay anyone withgift cards.

8. If they ask you for help, refer themelsewhere

Especially if your othercyber half is located outside of the U.S., be sure to refer them to a U.S.consulate or embassy if they ask for help or money. It’s a reasonable response,since authorities would be able to provide better help, especially if you justmet them.

9. Ask someone you trust for a secondopinion

When your emotions run sodeeply with someone, it’s hard to face the reality that they’re not who youthink they are. If you ever have an inkling you’re caught up in an onlinedating scam, step back and ask a trusted friend or family member to give asecond opinion about your relationship. They may see some warning signs youdidn’t.

10. Stop communicating and report theincident

If you’re suspicious or sure that you’rebeing scammed, cut off communication immediately and report the activity.Always consider the possibility of it being a scam, even if you contacted themfirst.


How to report an online dating scam

It may be nearly impossibleto recover money after you've been scammed. But reporting these incidents helpsfederal investigators look for commonalities and may help lead them toperpetrators.

For these reasons, take thefollowing steps if you suspect you’ve been scammed:

  1. Contact your bank right away if you’ve sent a romance scammermoney.
  2. Collect any records you have of your online relationship,including conversations and transactions.
  3. File a police report.
  4. Report the incident to:
    :- the FTC at
    :- the FBI at
    :- a dating site, if the scam started here.

20+ online dating scamstatistics

The unfortunate truth is thattoo many people have been a part of a love story that never ends in a happilyever after. Some of the proof is in these online dating scamstatistics.

Romance scams on the rise

Loneliness — especially during COVID-19isolation periods — and the development of new technologies have contributed tothe rise of romance scams in the past years.

  1. About half of allromance scam reports to the FTC since 2019 involve social media,usually on Facebook or Instagram. In the first six months of 2020, victimsreported a record high of losing almost $117 million to scams that startedon social media. (FTC, October 2020)
  2. Over 35,000 victimsreported that social media was the medium or tool used to facilitateonline crimes.(FBI, 2020 Internet Crime Report)
  3. The number of romance scams people report to the FTC has nearly tripled since 2015. (FTC, February 2021)
  4. In 2020, more than32,000 consumers filed a report with the FTC about romance scams. (FTC, February 2021)
  5. Nearly 24,000 peoplefell victim to confidence/romance scams in 2020. (FBI, 2020 Internet Crime Report)

The real price tags of online dating

Romance scams can affect your emotionalwellbeing and sense of trust, and can also be costly and irreversible.

  1. Total reported losses to romance scams were higher than any other scam reportedto the FTC in 2020. (FTC, February 2021)
  2. In 2020, people reported losing $304 million to romance scams. That’s nine times higher than it was five years prior, at $33 millionin 2015. (FTC, February 2021)
  3. In 2020, the median individual amount loss to a romance scamwas reportedly $2,500. (FTC, February 2021)
  4. In 2020, the median individual loss to a romance scam was ten times higher than the medianloss across all other fraud types. (FTC, February 2021)
  5. Romance scam was the topsix riskiest scam in 2020. (BBB 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
  6. Confidence/romance scams costvictims upward of $600 million in 2020, the second-highest internet crime loss. (FBI, 2020 Internet Crime Report)

Online dating scams and older adults

  1. Dating scams can happen with people of allages, but are especially risky to older adults.
  2. Romance scams are riskiest to people in the 55 – 64 age group. (BBB 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
  3. Older adults reportedly lostnearly $139 million in romance scams in 2020, followed by prizes,sweepstakes, and lottery scams at $69 million. (FTC 2020 - 2021 Protecting Older Consumers Report)
  4. In 2020, 68% of the dollars reported lost on romance scams by older adults were sent by wire transfer.(FTC 2020 - 2021 Protecting Older Consumers Report)
  5. Bank transfers and payments sent in connection with romance scams accounted for about $31 million, nearly a third of the dollars older adults reported romance scam losses. (FTC 2020 - 2021 Protecting Older Consumers Report) Romance scammers reportedly took an additional $12 million total in cryptocurrency from older adults. (FTC 2020 - 2021 Protecting Older Consumers Report)

Who’s most susceptible to romance scams

Online dating scams happen all over theworld, but certain demographics tend to be more susceptible.

  1. Romance scams have a 45%susceptibility risk to their targets. (BBB 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
  2. Women are more susceptible to romance scams than men. And following online purchasescams, romance scams are the second-riskiest scam type to women. (BBB 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report)
  3. Californians lost the most to dating scams in 2020 at $120 million. (FBI, 2020 State Report)
  4. Californians were the most caught upin confidence/romance scams in 2020, with3,110 people scammed. (FBI, 2020 State Report)

Stalkerware is trending up

Some people associate the use of stalkerware, a software thatenables someone to monitor a person's device without their knowledge, withromancescams. But the two are distinctly different.Romancescamsare designed to trick you for financial gain from someone from afar. Stalkerware isused by someone close to you or in a relationship with you to spy on you, and it could put lead to harm. Likeromancescams, stalkerware is also on the rise.

  1. 86% of adults are unaware of stalkerware or have only heard the name
    (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
  2. Around 42% of younger Americans from ages 18 – 39, who currently have a romantic partner, believe their partner is at least somewhat likely to download an application to monitor their activity.
    (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
  3. Three in five of Gen Z and Millennial Americans, aging from 18 – 39, have admitted to stalking an ex or current partner online.(2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
  4. There was a 63% uptick in the number of devices infected with stalkerware, amounting to more than 250,000 compromised devices per month, between September 2020 and May 2021.
    (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
  5. Men are three times more likely than women to use invasive apps to spy on a significant other.
    (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)
  6. More than one-third of Americans aging from 18 – 39 believe it is harmless to stalk a current or formerpartner online. (2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report)

Falling in love can be great.But before you let someone steal your heart online, keep these romance scamwarning signs and online dating pointers top of mind.

After all, you don’t wantyour love story to end in a cybercrime — everyone deserves a happily ever after.

(Video) Woman loses $100k after falling victim to online dating scam | Banfield


Where do most romance scams come from? ›

Many of these romance scams originate in west Africa, predominantly Nigeria and Ghana. Criminal organizations use legitimate dating apps to defraud people who are looking for love.

What are the signs of a romantic scammer? ›

  • 6 Signs You Might Be Dealing with a Romantic Scammer.
  • If they say, "It's an emergency." ...
  • Their stories and background aren't matching up. ...
  • They start blackmailing you. ...
  • They rope you into money laundering. ...
  • They steal your personal information. ...
  • You've never met or spoken to them.
31 May 2022

Who is most vulnerable to romance scams? ›

Many times, the criminal targets older people and those who may be struggling in a relationship and/or are emotionally vulnerable. Though most criminals aim for vulnerable targets, affluent and well-educated individuals have also fallen victim to these type of scams.

Why do people fall for online romance scams? ›

Loneliness is a factor in why smart people sometimes fall for online romance scams. Many people like interacting with others online. It makes them feel safe and in control when compared to some real-life connections. Scammers play into this by claiming to share similar likes and interests with their victims.

What can a scammer do with my picture? ›

Identity thieves could potentially gather information on you from images that you share online. A photo posted on your birthday, for example, would provide them with your date of birth, whereas a photo of a new house could potentially give them details of where you live.

How do you tell if you're talking to a scammer? ›

Every scam we looked at has a few standout characteristics in common.
  1. Tries to gain trust. An online scam will often try to gain your trust in some way. ...
  2. Emotional. ...
  3. Asks for action. ...
  4. Unexpected contact. ...
  5. Asks for personal info. ...
  6. Overpays you. ...
  7. Promises something. ...
  8. Wire transfer request.
16 Oct 2021

How can you tell a scammer online dating? ›

How to Identify a Dating Scammer
  1. Profile Warning Signs. ...
  2. They Try to Take the Conversation Elsewhere. ...
  3. Your Match Professes Love Early On. ...
  4. They Avoid Meet-Ups. ...
  5. They Avoid Video Chat Completely. ...
  6. They Request Money From You. ...
  7. They Ask for Your Help With Financial Transactions. ...
  8. They Send You a Link to Another Service or Website.

How do you know if an online relationship is real? ›

Here are 10 signs your online relationship is real and leading to lasting love.
  • There's no stop and go. ...
  • You want a date at the same time. ...
  • You email about the little things. ...
  • You share the same theory on timing. ...
  • The serious things aren't serious. ...
  • You define "partner" the same way. ...
  • You've met the same number of people.
23 Oct 2021

What is the psychology of a scammer? ›

Scammers use a number of tactics to pressure victims into making poorly-judged decisions. According to Dr Brooks, there are three main psychological techniques scammers are currently using to trick people – time pressure and illusions of scarcity, authority bias and greed and status.

Do people still fall for romance scams? ›

In fact, dating scams are on the rise. So much so that in the past five years, people have lost $1.3 billion to them, according to The Federal Trade Commission. Reported losses to romance scams hit a record-high in 2021 at $547 million, an increase of nearly 80% compared to the year before!

What are the characteristics of a scammer? ›

If you ever spot any of the following signs from someone you don't know then be suspicious - it could save you a lot of money!
  • 1) Unusual payment requests. ...
  • 2) Authority. ...
  • 3) Urgency. ...
  • 4) "Don't tell anyone" ...
  • 5) Playing on your emotions. ...
  • 6) Too good to be true?

What does a romance scammer want? ›

The scammer's intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.

How do you outsmart a catfish? ›

Here are five tips for outsmarting a catfish:
  1. Research them. ...
  2. Ask them to meet face-to-face. ...
  3. Don't fall for very early romance signs. ...
  4. Don't offer the person money. ...
  5. Don't share your personal data.
21 Mar 2022

How do you beat a con artist at his own game? ›

How To Beat Scammers At Their Own Game
  1. Search online. ...
  2. Consider how you pay. ...
  3. Don't deposit a check and wire money back. ...
  4. Don't pay upfront for a promise. ...
  5. Talk to someone. ...
  6. Spot imposters. ...
  7. Don't believe your caller ID. ...
  8. Hang up on robocalls.
29 Mar 2018

What can someone do with your selfie? ›

If you send a selfie to scammers, they will be able to create accounts in your name — for example, on cryptocurrency exchanges — with a view to using them to launder money. As a result, you may run into problems with the law.

What can a scammer do with your name pictures and cell phone number? ›

Your phone number is an easy access point for scammers and identity thieves. Once they know your number, they can use it to send you phishing texts, trick you into installing malware and spyware, or use social engineering attacks to get you to hand over your personal identifying information (PII).

What to do if a scammer has a video of you? ›

To report a sextortionist or scammer, visit the BBB Scam Tracker homepage, click “Report a Scam,” and fill in as much detail as possible about the incident.

What does a romance scammer want? ›

The scammer's intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.

How do you tell if you're talking to a scammer? ›

Every scam we looked at has a few standout characteristics in common.
  1. Tries to gain trust. An online scam will often try to gain your trust in some way. ...
  2. Emotional. ...
  3. Asks for action. ...
  4. Unexpected contact. ...
  5. Asks for personal info. ...
  6. Overpays you. ...
  7. Promises something. ...
  8. Wire transfer request.
16 Oct 2021

Will a romance scammer video call you? ›

However, if your new friend asks you to use a video service you've never heard of, beware. Also be extra wary if the face on the other side is too fuzzy to see. Scammers can fake video calls. Someone who keeps putting off the video call may be shy—or you may be.

How do you avoid romance scams? ›

Here are some things which may help you avoid being scammed:
  1. Don't share personal details. ...
  2. Don't send or receive money. ...
  3. Use trusted dating websites. ...
  4. Don't share personal contact details. ...
  5. Think twice before using your webcam. ...
  6. Trust your instincts.


1. Top 10 Romance Scam stories of 2022.
2. The Worst Kind of Romance Scammers
(Pleasant Green)
3. Romance Scams
4. Meet the scammers breaking hearts and stealing billions online | Four Corners
(ABC News In-depth)
(Jessa & Travis)
6. Dr. Phil S13E18 Love Scams- My Mother Sent Her Catfish 300k Plus 3 Cars
(Pepperoni Pizza)
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