The Surprising Place That You Might Get Targeted By Scammers

Older people are more at risk.

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Looking for love online? Be careful not to get unlucky. Romantic scams on dating websites and through social media are on the rise, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

In 2018, people made more than 21,000 complaints and reported losing more than $143 million on dating websites and through romantic overtures made over social media. That’s up from 8,500 complaints in 2015 with a total reported loss of $33 million. Romantic scams were the top consumer fraud in 2018.

“We’re not talking about the person you thought was ‘the one’ but ended up being a dud,” says Linda Weintraub Schifferle, an attorney with the FTC’s division of consumer and business education. “We’re talking about people you meet online, who lavish you with attention…and then ask for money.” Find out about 10 more online scams you need to be aware of—and how to avoid them.

The median amount of people reporting losing to romantic scammers in 2018? $2,600. That’s about seven times higher than other consumer fraud losses people brought to the attention of the agency last year. And some cases involve much more loss, such as the Florida woman who estimated she sent more than $500,000 to a man she had been corresponding with in California. Some South Carolina inmates have also been implicated in targeting service members. Of course, people can fall prey to all kinds of scams on and offline. If you get this phone call, you’re about to get scammed.

So how does an initial match on a dating website or social media wind up in criminal territory?

Eric Resnick, dating profile writer, and owner of says that the most popular targets for dating scams are people 55 and older, specifically widow and widowers. And con people—because both men and women scam, Resnick says—know the buttons to push.

“Scamming is a talent, it’s a skill that these people have,” Resnick says. “It’s their job to separate you from money, and they’re good at it.”

For men, they may be in a long-distance correspondence and the person that they’ve been communicating with suddenly presents with a crisis, like losing a job or that their dog needs surgery, Resnick says. That appeals to some men’s heroic instincts. For women, the scammer might emotionally manipulate the person and threaten to remove the connection. People can fall prey to all kinds of scams online. For some good general advice, learn 10 ways to protect yourself online.

And the numbers are likely even higher than what’s been reported to the FTC. People who get fleeced by a love interest are often embarrassed, which is why 80 percent of these cases go unreported, Resnick says.

“Getting scammed is stupid until you’ve gotten scammed,” he says. “Every person I’ve ever spoken to who has been scammed was an ‘oh, this would never happen to me’ person.” Some of the scams have been traced overseas to countries with weak extradition treaties with the United States, he says. Find out how one man changed an Internet scam into a friendship.

To avoid getting scammed by a potential dating partner, here’s what Resnick recommends:

  1. Don’t send money. “There is never ever any reason to send money to someone you met on a dating site,” Resnick says. “The only person you should be sending money to on the dating site is the dating site for your monthly subscription.” Scams are everywhere–you can even buy a “doctorate” online with just $99.
  2. Be careful what you write. A profile that mentions you lost a spouse or are lonely could signal vulnerability and invite scammers.
  3. Watch your photos. Selfies that are all taken in your house could communicate that you’re lonely and don’t have many friends or family for support. And don’t display aspects of your material wealth such as your car or home. “That’s basically saying: Come take my money from me,” Resnick says.
  4. Stay local. While there are exceptions to every rule, starting a long-distance romance online could be asking for trouble. Resnick recommends you concentrate on people within driving distance.
  5. Ask to meet in person within seven to 10 days. You put yourself at risk by building a correspondence-based romance for both heartache and scams. “If they’re not real, they won’t show,” Resnick says.

There are a lot of scammers out there, be sure to learn how to best protect yourself.

Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.