FTC Warns the Public Not to Let Online Romance Scammers Turn Them Into ‘Money Mules’

FTC Warns the Public Not to Let Online Romance Scammers Turn Them Into ‘Money Mules’
Illustration: Volanthevist, Getty Images

Based on the incredible amount of South Korean romance dramas Netflix recommends to my poor soul, I can guarantee you that I’m a sucker for a good love story. However, I’m not a fan of getting scammed, and come as a messenger bearing a humble warning: Online love and money will almost certainly result in an unhappy ending.

The actual sender of the message is the Federal Trade Commission, which was a lot sterner in the advisories it issued earlier this week telling the public to steer clear of online romance scams. According to the agency, this type of fraud reached a record high in 2021, with people reporting $US547 ($759) million in losses. That’s nothing compared to the amount of money individuals lost over the last five years to romance scams — $US1.3 ($2) billion, which is more than any other FTC fraud category.

“Romance scammers weave all sorts of believable stories to con people, but their old standby involves pleas for help while claiming one financial or health crisis after another,” the agency wrote in a news article. “People who lost money to a romance scammer often report sending money repeatedly: they believe they’re helping someone they care about. But it’s all a lie.”

The average person reported losing about $US2,400 ($3,332) to online romance scams in 2021. Notably, the agency found that the largest number of reported losses were paid to scammers in cryptocurrency, which accounted for $US139 ($193) million in losses last year. Gift cards were the most common form of payment to the scammers.

Unsurprisingly, the FTC says that scammers find many people on dating apps, although some people report being contacting on social media via unexpected private messages. In 2021, more than one third of people who claimed they lost money to an online romance scam said it began on Facebook or Instagram.

Besides the common cry for help described by the agency above, a common scheme used by romance scammers involves asking their victims to help them transfer money for various shady purposes, such as getting their inheritance money or closing a business deal. While this may seem innocent, the FTC explains that this turns victims into money launderers.

“Stories like this often set people up to become ‘money mules’–they may think they’re just helping, but they’re really laundering stolen funds,” the agency wrote. “These stories are also used to trick people into sending their own money.”

In the latter cases, some victims pay fake fees to accept money that scammers never really sent. Others deposit a check from their scammer lovers and then send them money, only to find out that the check was fake.

After reading all this, some of maybe be disheartened in your quest to find love online. Don’t be sad: Not all love interests are scammers! If you’re still fishing for romance online, there are things to keep in mind and steps you can take to make sure you and your money are safe.

According to the FTC, you should know that no legitimate love interest will ask you to send them money via cryptocurrency, gift cards, or wire transfers. On that note, you shouldn’t send money or make investments with someone you haven’t met in real life. You should also take advantage of your support network, such as friends and family, and tell them about your new online love. Ask them what they think about the person and the situation.

Another good rule of them is to search for your new online love’s profile picture on the internet. Scammers can create fake profiles with photos from others on the web, and a reverse-image search can help you find out if your new love interest is a scammer. 

With Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s probably a good idea to be on alert to any strange request from your online love interest. If they ask you for money to prove your love, do a hard pass and buy yourself something nice instead. There’s nothing better in this world than self-love. I can assure you this does last forever.