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Romance Scams Up During COVID, Many Involving Cryptocurrency

Romance scams, like one detailed in the Netflix documentary “The Tinder Swindler,” already were increasing frequency before the coronavirus pandemic began, and their prevalence is now reaching new heights, reports the Wall Street Journal. Romance scams—in which fraudsters pretend to be a love interest to bilk unassuming partners—aren’t new, but the rapid growth of the con fueled by the proliferation of online dating apps and social media, as well as tactics used to target new audiences, including the wider use of cryptocurrency, are gaining renewed attention from law enforcement and compliance agencies. The number of romance-scam complaints continued to increase through 2021, after setting records in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The number of romance frauds reported to the FTC reached 56,000 in 2021, a nearly 70 percent increase over 2020. Victims reported losing about $547 million in such scams, a seventy eight percent jump from the prior year. “Romance is a powerful hook for scammers,” said Emma Fletcher of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. The pandemic may have fueled the growth of romance scams as the coronavirus has provided a convenient excuse for scammers to say they aren’t able to meet in person, Fletcher said. Last year saw scammers increasingly using romance as a hook to lure people into bogus investments, particularly those involving cryptocurrency. After romancing a potential target, the scammers often make a victim believe they are successful investors and casually offer investment advice for fake opportunities that may involve foreign-exchange trading or cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency was the top method by dollar amount that victims used to make such payments in 2021, at about $139 million.


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