National Consumers League

Love hurts: New fraud report shows concerning increase in romance scams

February 1, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—With Valentine’s Day a few short weeks away, those who are looking for love online should also be on the lookout for imposters who want something besides affection: your money. According to the National Consumers League, which is issuing its annual Top Ten Scams report today, so-called “romance scam” complaints showed a big spike in 2018. Whereas such scams made up only 1.54 percent of complaints to NCL in 2017, in 2018 they made up 2.81 percent of complaints, a greater than 45 percent jump, year-over-year. For those who fall prey to these scams, the consequences can be devastating. The average loss reported by victims of these scams in 2018 was $18,831, by far the most financially devastating of the scams reported to NCL. 

“Scammers will stop at nothing to separate victims from their money,” said John Breyault, NCL’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud. “They depend on the people they prey on to act on emotions, not reason. There’s no stronger emotion than love, and scammers are all too eager to use supposedly romantic connections to defraud their victims.” 

The annual report, which is compiled from more than 5,300 complaints filed by consumers at NCL’s Fraud.org website, identified another additional worrying trend: for the third year in a row, complaints about phishing and spoofing scams rose. NCL attributes this trend to fraudsters being able to identify and target their victims better with email and robocalls. 

“With data breaches putting more financial information in the hands of criminals than ever before, it’s unsurprising that the scammers are sending more convincing-looking phishing and spoofing emails,” said Breyault. “In fact, our own staff at NCL were nearly taken in by one of these scams recently. It just goes to show you that no one is immune to these scams.” 

The overall top complaints in 2018 remained unchanged from 2017, with bogus Internet merchandise scams, fraudulent prizes and sweepstakes, and fake check scams making up the three most common types of complaints received at NCL. Other top scam categories included refund/recovery scams, scholarship and grant scams, and imposter scams. 

An additional trend that advocates like Breyault are concerned about: the growing use of gift cards as a preferred method of payment by scammers. Although wire transfer and credit cards continue to be the most popular ways for scammers to get paid by their victims, 2018 saw a 25 percent increase in the use of alternative methods, including gift cards, as a payment method.  

Read the full 2018 Top Scams report from NCL.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.