Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Romance Scammers Are Wooing Victims Into Bogus Crypto Schemes

Online criminals break hearts and steal savings with promises of risk-free investments

spinner image cryptocurrency and romance scams
Getty Images/AARP

Are you hoping for true love? And more money than you ever imagined?

Who isn’t?

That’s why an unconscionable cadre of criminals dangle these twin temptations — the promise of romance and vast wealth — in what can be an emotionally and financially devastating double-barreled scam. The deception starts out as romance fraud and transforms into a cryptocurrency investment fraud in which victims have lost millions of dollars.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership

Join AARP for $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine

Join Now

Essentially, the criminal seduces the victim online, then gets him or her to make bogus investments in crypto. It’s been a growing problem for about three years, says Erin West, a deputy district attorney in San Jose, California, who focuses on battling cryptocurrency crime.

Victims often don’t realize there’s no money in their digital currency accounts until it’s too late, says Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network, and by then the “criminal has long moved on to another victim.”

West, who has seen the trail of destruction that crypto-romance scammers leave in their wake, notes that victims not only have to grapple with the financial loss but also the heartbreaking betrayal by a “person they’ve grown to love and trust.”

The scope of the problem

It’s hard to pinpoint the precise number of victims — scams are notoriously underreported — but nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2022, with $1.3 billion in reported losses — up from 56,000 reports and $547 million lost in 2021. (Those figures include non-crypto losses.) And the amount stolen tends to be far higher for older adults, who tend to have more money to lose: The median individual loss from romance scams for people 70 and over was $9,000 in 2021, according to the FTC, compared with $2,400 across all age groups.

Cryptocurrency fraud also has taken a quantum leap in recent years. The FTC says that in 2022, more than 53,000 people reported losing a total of more than $1.4 billion in cryptocurrency to scams.

spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

How the scam typically works

1. Make contact. First the criminals prowl the web for victims and make contact through text messages, dating apps, websites or direct messages on platforms including Facebook and LinkedIn. Some criminals pretend they are young and attractive and use fake profile photos to support that charade.

2. Spark romance. They may chat with their targets for three or four hours a day to draw them in, starting the day with a wake-up message, “Good morning, sweetheart,” and going from there. This frequent messaging can last a month or much longer.

3. Talk — and take — money. As the digital “relationship” deepens, perpetrators persuade victims to make what is purportedly an investment in cryptocurrency. Photos of luxury cars and vacations are shared to give the illusion of new wealth and spur the victim to act. In some cases, the scammer will feign ignorance of crypto but purport that their “uncle” is a skilled investor and can help them out.

Criminals have various ways of collecting the money: Some instruct victims to go to a crypto ATM to buy digital currency and send it to them. Or they might send victims a link to purchase crypto that actually “puts [the money] in the perpetrator’s digital wallet,” AARP’s Nofziger says.  

4. Demonstrate fake gains. If the victims agree to buy crypto, the (still seemingly adoring) criminals directs them to fabricated websites that appear to show that the investment is paying off big-time.

5. Ask for more money. Sometimes victims are able to make small withdrawals from their accounts at first, but if they try to cash out, they are told they must pay a 25 percent “tax.”

The need to come up with the so-called tax can prompt victims to mortgage their house, deplete 401(k)s, raid their kids’ college funds or borrow from relatives, says West, who calls the crime “hideous.”

“It is a long con that’s really laser-focused on taking every penny from the victim," she adds. “That’s why we’re literally seeing suicides. We are seeing people checking themselves into psychiatric facilities.”

How to protect yourself from this scam

  • Beware of people you meet online, particularly if they quickly want to leave the dating website and communicate with you through email or instant messaging. (AARP’s Fraud Resource Center offers more information on avoiding romance scams.)
  • Never send money or invest based on the advice of someone you have met solely online.
  • Never disclose anything about your financial status to people you don’t know.
  • Don’t provide your banking information, Social Security number, copies of IDs (including passport) or other sensitive information to anyone online or on a site that you do not know is legitimate.
  • Be wary of anyone who claims to have exclusive investment opportunities with guaranteed profits. They’ll also typically urge you to act fast.   
Flowers & Gifts

Coupons for Local Stores

Save on clothing, gifts, beauty and other everyday shopping needs

See more Flowers & Gifts offers >

More Resources

  • File a police report. If you experience a scam, the documentation may be of value if there is some means of recouping your loss.
  • File reports with the federal government. The FTC and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center use fraud reports to target their investigations; the more information they have, the better they can identify patterns, link cases and ultimately catch the criminals. Contact the FTC at and the FBI at  
  • To learn more about crypto, check out the FTC’s guidance at
  • To hear about a Cape Cod boat captain's experience with a crypto-romance scam, listen to this episode of AARP's The Perfect Scam. 

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?

spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.