As illustrated in buzzy programs like The Tinder Swindler and Inventing Anna, scammers often exploit victims’ willingness to give money to people they care about. But while scripted series and even documentaries can make those types of scams seem larger than life, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants you to know that they’re way more common than you think.
According to the organization, romance scams have amounted to $1.3 billion in personal losses in the last five years, with $547 million of that sum coming in 2021 alone—up almost 80 percent from 2020. Online dating platforms are a huge culprit: Scammers are adept at building profiles with others people’s photos and combing the internet for your personal details, which they can use to trick you into thinking you two have a lot in common.
It’s tough to dive into the dating pool feeling like you’ll never know whom to trust, but there are certain red flags to look out for. “[The details that scammers] share about themselves will always include built-in excuses for not meeting in person. For example, many reportedly claim to be serving overseas in the military or working on an offshore oil rig,” the FTC explains. Finding out someone is posted overseas isn’t necessarily grounds for ghosting—but if that person is also asking for financial support, be it for their sick kid or some other sad reason, you might want to unmatch.
Another warning sign is if someone asks you to help them transfer their own money. Maybe they’ve told you that they’re having trouble accessing their inheritance or they’re temporarily shifting money around to close a business deal. Though it may seem harmless—after all, it’s not your money—you could be inadvertently laundering cash.
And just because you’re not on dating apps doesn’t make you immune to these scams. As Gizmodo reports, one third of the FTC’s 2021 romance scam reports involved direct messages on Facebook or Instagram.