Image: iStock/Melpomenem

Quarantining left many people bored and lonely and in search of love, but a lot were left with broken hearts: Romance scams have increased during the pandemic. A new report finds a record-breaking loss of $304 million in 20201 due to these scams compared to $202 million in 2019. There were 32,792 so-called catfishing cases reported, according to the report by Social Catfish.

“One way that people have tried to cure their loneliness is by creating online dating accounts, hoping to find their future significant other,” the site said. “However, scammers flood these dating apps and pretend to be someone they aren’t in order to lure their victims in.”

A reason is that several dating apps and social media platforms have become increasingly more popular since 2016, the site said.

SEE: How to manage passwords: Best practices and security tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

There was record use of dating apps, with revenue exceeding $3 billion for the first time in 2020, the site said. This created an unprecedented opportunity for scammers to prey on isolated victims during the pandemic.

According to the FTC, in 2016, $75 million was lost due to romance scams with 11,235 cases reported. That figure rose to 16,902 cases reported with $87 million lost in 2018. Each year those figures have gone up, Social Catfish said.

“Within just a four-year span, romance scam cases increased by 21,557 cases and $229 million more dollars were lost,” the site said. “This just goes to show how romance scams keep rapidly increasing due to the uptick in users on dating apps and social media platforms.

With people forced to remain indoors last year, many came to rely more heavily on dating apps and social media platforms likely so that they wouldn’t feel as lonely.

“People were encouraged to only mingle in person with those living in their homes. Therefore, many people had to rely on technology to have a conversation with friends or to make new friends that they could talk to … However, this made them more susceptible to romance scammers,” the site said.

Money lost by state

California had the highest number of romance scam cases (3,110) in 2020 with over $120 million lost, according to Social Catfish. Texas followed with 1,602 cases and over $42 million lost, Florida was third with 1,603 cases and $40 million lost.

Rounding out the top 10 were Michigan, with 572 cases and $28 million lost, New York with 1,103 cases and $26 million lost, Virginia with 531 cases and $18 million lost, Washington with 579 cases and $14 million lost, North Carolina with 558 cases and $14 million lost, Illinois with 688 cases and $14 million lost and Maryland with 405 cases and $13 million lost.

At the bottom of the list are five territories with the least amount of money lost: Guam, Virgin Islands, U.S. Minor Outlying Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Guam had eight romance scam cases with $88,000 lost. The Virgin Islands had four romance scam cases with $41,000 lost. U.S. Minor Outlying Islands had three romance scam cases with $35,000 lost. American Samoa had one romance scam case with $500 lost, according to Social Catfish.

The report details examples of specific scams. In one case, a wife and mother “met her romance scammer while playing an innocent [music trivia] game of SongPop and started talking to him non-stop,” the site said. “Even though she was married, the scammer made her question how she felt about her husband and whether or not she even wanted to stay in the marriage.”

The woman ended up giving the scammer $50,000 to fix an oil rig he said he was working on. Further details can be found here.

Tips for how to avoid romance scams

Social Catfish offers the following advice:

  • Don’t give money to someone on the internet that you’ve never met in person.

  • Don’t give out your personal information to someone that you are talking to online.

  • If someone is moving the relationship super-fast, be cautious by slowing the relationship down.

  • Don’t get too serious with someone without at least video chatting with them or meeting them in person first.

  • If they have a job overseas, this is a huge red flag that they might be a romance scammer since they usually use this as an excuse to not see you or video chat with you.

  • If someone is randomly contacting you out-of-the-blue on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter this usually means they are a romance scammer.

  • Report any scam that you’ve been a part of to the FTC, IC3, and FBI.