Lovesick singletons are the biggest target for scam artists in America

Roses are red, violets are blue — your Valentine’s date may be scamming you.

Romance-related scams are now the most costly form of online fraud, the Federal Trade Commission warned Tuesday.

Losses from dating-related fraud quadrupled in recent years, ballooning from $33 million lost in 2015 to $143 million lost in 2018. In many of these scenarios, people are convinced by strangers they meet online — often on dating apps — to fork over money.

‘These kinds of romance scams are very targeted social engineering attacks, effectively ‘hacking’ the victim’s emotions, rather than trying to perform a technical assault.’

—Nathan Wenzler, senior director of cybersecurity at Moss Adams

“These kinds of romance scams are very targeted social engineering attacks, effectively ‘hacking’ the victim’s emotions, rather than trying to perform a technical assault,” Nathan Wenzler, senior director of cybersecurity at Seattle-Wash. accounting, consulting, and wealth management firm Moss Adams, said.

The number of romance scams reported to the FTC increased to more than 21,000 in 2018, up from 8,500 in 2015 . People targeted by these scams reported a median loss of $2,600, according to the FTC. Losses are even higher for older age groups, with people 70 and over reporting the biggest median loss at $10,000.

In a typical scenario, a victim meets someone through a dating website or other online space. The person claims to live far away and asks them to wire money for “emergency” costs like a sick relative, a car repair, or even an airline ticket so they can meet up in real life.

Helped by data breaches and social media, these attacks are becoming more common in part because scammers are better able to find information about the victims online in advance and personalize their swindling efforts, Wenzler said. Data breaches have been soaring in recent years, with more than 1,300 in 2018 compared to just 200 in 2005.

Helped by data breaches and social media, scammers are better able to find information about the victims online in advance and personalize their swindling efforts.

“One of the side effects of the huge number of data breaches we’ve seen over the last several years is that more and more personal data is out and available for attackers to use,” Wenzler said. “Armed with these personal details, it becomes much easier to have conversations that may interest the victim, build trust and ultimately pose a request for money that appeals to some aspect of their personal life that the attacker has discerned from their cache of the victim’s information.”

To avoid these scams, the FTC recommends never sending money or gifts to an online sweetheart you haven’t met in person. Be wary of people who decline to use photos of themselves or speak on the phone. You can also use Google Image GOOG, +2.41%   search to copy and paste the profile image to ensure it is not a photo being reused from elsewhere online.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of a dating scam, you can report it to the FTC online using its complaint form. The FTC suggests users include the website where they met the scammer in a complaint. Wenzler suggests that on any online dating platform users should be mindful of potential attacks and take things slowly.

“Remember that it’s ok to say “no”, and to be skeptical until you’ve met the person face-to-face and built a stronger trust relationship,” he said. “After all, if that person truly is the one, they aren’t likely to put you in this kind of compromising situation in the first place.”

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