Online romance scams have cost people millions already this year, says FBI

The FBI says lonely heart scams cost consumers over $133 million in the first seven months of this year.

Bree Fowler Senior Writer
Bree Fowler writes about cybersecurity and digital privacy. Before joining CNET she reported for The Associated Press and Consumer Reports. A Michigan native, she's a long-suffering Detroit sports fan, world traveler, two star marathoner and champion baker of over-the-top birthday cakes and all-things sourdough.
Expertise Cybersecurity, Digital Privacy, IoT, Consumer Tech, Running and Fitness Tech, Smartphones, Wearables
Bree Fowler
2 min read

Be careful out there -- you can wind up heartbroken and just plain broke.

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The FBI is warning consumers to be on the lookout for romance scammers asking them to send money to allegedly invest in, or trade, cryptocurrency.

The FBI says that in the first seven months of this year, its Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 1,800 complaints related to online romance scams that resulted in losses totaling $133.4 million.

The FBI says scammers usually first contact victims through dating apps and social media sites, then gain their trust by establishing an online relationship. They then claim to have knowledge of profitable cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities and direct the victim to a fake website or app. 

After the victim has invested an initial amount and sees a profit, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money, boosting their trust. But then the scammers tell the victim to invest larger amounts of money, often adding that they need to act fast, the FBI says.

But the next time the victim wants to withdraw money, the scammers give them a host of reasons as to why they can't. They may say that additional taxes or fees need to be paid, or that a minimum account balance hasn't been met. This gets the victim to invest more money. And once the victim stops investing, the scammers usually just cut off contact, the FBI says.

How to avoid getting scammed 

  • Don't send money to people you've met only online and don't make investments based on their advice. Also, don't talk about your finances with people you don't trust.
  • Don't give your banking information, Social Security number, ID, passport details or any other personal info to anyone online, or to a website you don't know for a fact is legitimate.
  • If an investment, online or not, looks too good to be true, it probably is. And be wary of people who tell you that you need to act right away to get in on the investment opportunity. They're counting on you to not think before you act.