The Epidemic of Romance Fraud

By Steve Baker, International Investigations Specialist, Better Business Bureau

What is romance fraud?  Scammers create fake profiles, often using stolen photos, and typically contact people on dating sites and social media. They then may spend months communicating daily with victims and building an emotional bond. At some point, they will claim to need help (money) for an emergency.  If they get money, they will ask for more. No one actually meets in person. The BBB has a free in-depth study on romance frauds here.  In profiles aimed at women, it is very common to use photos of those in the US military.

How many people are victims?  There are probably more than 1 million victims just in the U.S.  Most people are reluctant to report to law enforcement, but the FTC got 21,000 complaints on this in 2018. The FBI reports that this is the second-highest number of losses of all the scams they see.  Losses reported over the last three years are more than $1billion. If you’ve experienced cybercrime, visit for recovery help.

Who are the victims?  This affects everyone at all ages and income levels.  Studies found that the only common indicator was that they tended to be higher in romantic beliefs; they believe in true love and think they have found it.

What are the effects on victims? In addition to the money lost, leaving many in poverty, they also have devastating emotional damage.  One support group says every member has considered suicide, and that it is not an uncommon result. Many people are repeat victims.

How else do scammers use victims?  Scammers frequently use victims to process the money they get from other frauds.  They are also sometimes tricked into carrying drugs internationally. The BBB has a free in depth study on romance fraud victims used as “money mules” here.

Who is behind this fraud?  This is mainly carried out by Nigerians, who may live anywhere in the world, including in the U.S.  One expert estimates that at any one time there are 25,000 romance scammers on line operating from Nigeria.

What should victims do?  Report the scam to BBB, the FTC, or the FBI/IC3.

What else can we do to help victims?   Sharing the BBB study on this topic may help them understand that they are far from alone and that the scammers are very smart, organized, and aggressive.  We also desperately need more support groups to help victims — and their families.

Do any of the scammers get caught?  There has been a strong increase in criminal prosecutions in the last year.