COVID-19 forced more people to get all their social needs met online and created an unprecedented opportunity for scammers to prey on isolated and lonely Washingtonians, who lost at least $14,839,297 to romance scammers in 2020.
That makes Washington the seventh most catfished state in the union, according to a new study by Social Catfish, an anti-scammer information site, which reported a record-breaking $304 million lost in the United States from romance scams. That number is up 50% since 2019, showing that the rate of romance scams has increased significantly because of the coronavirus.
The study, based on data from FBI’s internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission released in March and February 2021, shows Americans lost a record $304 million in 2020, up from $201 million in 2019.
(And that’s a lowball figure as many victims are too embarrassed to report their losses.)
Catfish are scammers who create fake online profiles to lure victims on social-media and dating sites, feigning romantic interest to earn trust before asking for money and/or valuable personal information.
Americans lose more money to romance scams than to any other type of consumer fraud, according to the FTC. Victims are commonly between the ages of 40 and 69, but those over 70 lose the most money to the cons, the FTC reports.
In 2019, Washington state had the sixth-highest number of victims of what the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s internet Crime Complaint Center classifies as “confidence fraud / romance” scams.
“Romance scams can bring about some of the most devastating victimizations,” Jason Erskine of AARP Washington said last year. “Not only can some victims lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the emotional toll can have long-lasting and ruinous consequences. The bottom line, whether you’re starting a new relationship in person or online — especially when it’s online: Take it slowly and stay skeptical until you know you’re not being targeted by a crook. Be sure to protect your heart — and your money.”
AARP of Washington has identified catfish scams as a significant threat and launched numerous educational campaigns on the topic.
Here are some key findings from the study:
· 5 most targeted states: California (3,110 victims, $120M lost), Texas (1,602 victims, $42.1M), Florida (1,603 victims, $40.1M), Michigan (572 victims, $28.6M) and New York (1,103 victims, $26.2M).
· 5 least targeted states: Wyoming (44 victims, $377,214 lost), Delaware (58 victims, $488,609), South Dakota (32 victims, $585,685), North Dakota (47 victims, $600,571) and Vermont (46 victims, $671,040).
· Record use of dating apps: Dating app revenue exceeded $3 billion for the first time in 2020, creating unprecedented opportunity for scammers to prey on isolated victims during the pandemic.
5 tips to avoid being ‘catfished’:
1. Never give money or personal information: Do not give money to anyone you meet online, no matter the reason. Do not give even basic information: scammers use it to commit identity fraud, get access to your bank accounts and steal your money.
2. Take things slow: If you like someone online, do not let them rush you. Romance scammers will be pushy about falling in love right away. If that is the case, know that something is not right.
3. Meet or video chat: Do not form a relationship with someone who will not video chat or meet you in person. A common scam is to say they cannot meet because they work overseas or are in the military stationed elsewhere; these are big red flags.
4. Reverse search: Scammers steal photos from good-looking people on social media and pretend to be them. Use reverse search platforms that can confirm the identity of someone using a photo, email or phone number.
5. Be aware on all platforms: Scammers are not just on dating apps, they are contacting people in 2021 on Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn. Be careful on all platforms.
If you believe you have been contacted by a romance scammer report it to the FTC.