Romance scam victims in the United States and Canada have reported losing nearly $1 billion over the last three years, according to the Better Business Bureau.
A new study by the BBB said scammers often take several months to gain their victim’s trust and will then ask for money. Around 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles scanned every month by one dating company are frauds, according to the BBB.
The FBI’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission estimate that 32,279 people were victims of online romance scams last year, losing more than $350 million.
Victims rarely speak out because they are humiliated and embarrassed they fell for the scam, the BBB said.
There is no typical victim of romance fraud, the study shows. The common denominator is that the victims are seeking a loving relationship and they believe they have found it.
Much of the fraud comes from Nigerian romance scams, according to the BBB. The scammers often portray themselves as U.S. military members, prompting complaints to military officials.
Bruce Gadansky, the COO with the BBB office in Louisville, told WDRB the report shows the problem is bigger than many people thought.
“A couple of years back, a lady went through $80,000,” he said. “Thinking that she was talking to someone who was romantically interested in her, and she was 85 years old, and he knew that and he played her for everything that he could.”
There is no online dating site that is 100 percent safe, Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois told the Chicago Tribune.
To avoid becoming a victim, Bernas said to beware of matches who quickly ask to take the conversation offline to text or Skype. He also recommends online daters not send money or personal information to people they have not met in person.
BBB also advises online daters to be aware of bad grammar and misspelled words and to ask for details and specifics, such as a photos of them holding something with their username on it.