BALTIMORE — This week, love is on the minds of many, but not everyone is just after a companion.
In the last year, Americans have reported losing a record $547 million to romance scams with the median individual loss at $2,400.
These scams are emotionally and financially devastating. And there’s a new kind of scheme that’s been circulating in Maryland.
The texts come from unknown numbers, but the sender claims to have a connection.
“Asked if I was Ivan. They said their name was Veda and that we matched on Bumble, but I’ve never had Bumble so I already knew it wasn’t me,” said Sadie Roussell.
Roussell politely responded they have the wrong number.
“Then she continued talking to me, which I already thought was weird saying like, 'Holy cow, how did I just message a random guy?' And then sent me a selfie,” said Roussell.
Even though Roussell stopped responding, the texter kept trying to engage.
“Multiple reports in the Maryland region,” said Angie Barnett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving greater Maryland.
People have reported receiving similar texts with the same woman's photo, but different names and numbers.
Barnett believes these text phishing schemes are after your personal information or money, sometimes through exploitation.
“They may send unsavory photos, photos that are inappropriate and they may ask you for sexually explicit photos as well,” Barnett said.
And it's been working. These romance scammers and others are masters of deceit.
“They’re charming, they say the right thing, they make you feel important. They give you what you need.
A new report by the Federal Trade Commission shows they’ve had a big year with a nearly 80 percent increase in reported losses.
A growing new trend is scammers seeking payment via cryptocurrency. Victims reported losing $139 million after sending cryptocurrency. The median individual reported loss was just under $10,000.
More than a third of people who lost money say the scam began on Facebook or Instagram.
And while reports about romance scams increased for every age group in 2021, the number of reports for people ages 18 to 29 increased more than tenfold from 2017 to 2021. But the reported median loss increased with age: people 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,000, compared to $750 for the 18 to 29 age group, according to the FTC.
“We’re human and they know how to capitalize on that,” said Barnett.
With those returns, scammers aren’t going anywhere. It’s up to consumers to guard their hearts and bank accounts.
“If you are wondering is there a chance that this could be a scam artist? Have a conversation with someone else because you’re emotionally invested in this and it’s really hard to be objective,” said Barnett.
If you get a text message from someone you don’t know wanting to start a relationship, don’t respond or block the number.
The FTC is also urging consumers searching for love online to look for these warning signs:
- Nobody legit will ever ask you to help by sending cryptocurrency, giving the numbers on a gift card, or by wiring money. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- Never send or forward money for someone you haven’t met in person, and don’t act on their investment advice.
- Talk to friends or family about a new love interest and pay attention if they’re concerned.
- Try a reverse-image search of profile pictures. If the details don’t match up, it’s a scam.
- Help stop scammers by reporting suspicious profiles or messages to the dating app or social media platform. Then, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Learn more at ftc.gov/romancescams.