A new report found that romance scams targeting older Americans have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with adults aged 60 and higher losing about $139 million in 2020 -- the highest total reported loss of any scam category.
For comparison, older adults lost $84 million to romance scams in in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Reports of bank transfers and payments in this age group also doubled in 2020, and the FTC reported that romance scams were the drivers of these increases.
Scammers often use fake dating profiles to lure people into sending money, sometimes through gift cards or wire transfers, consumer advocates say.
They often tell targets that they're traveling outside of the United States -- as a part of the military, for example -- and ask for money to pay for plane tickets, surgeries, visas and more.
Rampant loneliness existed long before COVID-19, and experts believe it's now worse, prompting people to seek out connections.
"Many people reported that romance scammers used the pandemic to explain requests for money or their inability to meet in person," according to the report.
How to protect yourself, according to the FTC
- Never send a person money without meeting face-to-face.
- Use an online reverse image search to make sure their pictures align and they're not associated with anyone else.
- Listen to family and friend's concerns.
- If you think it's a scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.