Home Illustration Millions of lonely Americans have been defrauded into romance scams

Millions of lonely Americans have been defrauded into romance scams


From the commotion

Talk about a bad breakup: In the first three quarters of 2021, Americans lost $343M+ to romance scams, according to analysis by Atlas VPN.

That’s more than all of 2020, in which Americans reported $304 million in romance scams to the FTC, up 50% from 2019.

What is a romance scam?

According to the FBI, it’s when a scammer uses a fake persona online to build a relationship with someone they’ll later scam out of money.

Romance scammers usually hide on dating sites or social media to find victims and may be part of a criminal organization.

The common targets are single or vulnerable people over 50, often women. Scammers establish trust and affection, then ask for money – perhaps for medical or legal bills, debts or travel expenses.

And they usually want it through less traceable means, like gift or recharge cards, transfers, or crypto.

Some common red flags:

  • They repeatedly promise to meet IRL, but something always comes back
  • The relationship degenerates very quickly, even talking about marriage without meeting face to face
  • They try to isolate the victims from their friends or family
  • They ask for financial information or intimate photos that could be used for extortion

Why the boom in romance scams?

A theory: the pandemic. People have a good excuse for not wanting to meet in person and are more isolated than ever. A recent study found that 36% of Americans experience “severe loneliness.”

Moreover: Some scammers are brazen enough to do it in person, like John Meehan – about The Los Angeles Times‘ “Dirty John” series – or Derek Alldred, who, by Atlanticscammed over 12 women out of ~$1 million.