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