They’re Not Real: Romance Scams


No one likes being single on Valentine’s day. Fortunately, you’re one of the lucky, loved people who can send scintillating gold boxes of intricate chocolates, constantly text sentimental messages, and watch cringe rom-coms on Facetime with your beloved significant other. Through all of these evident romantic activities, it’s obvious that your relationship is completely fine and someone truly loves you. Except your significant other resides thousands of miles away in a foreign country, except they always turn off their camera on phone calls because their “service is glitching,” and except they persistently ask you for excessive sums of money for their bankrupt family business. Although today is the long awaited Valentine’s day, your “lover” still exasperates you with deliberate, superficial excuses refusing to meet up in-person: is this a spurious romance scam?

Romance scams, or “sweetheart” scams, pervade websites especially right before Valentine’s Day. Online scammers approach victims, consistently “charm” them with random pick-up lines until they’re enticed, and use their affection against them. By deceiving lonely single people through spam on social media, emails, dating apps, texts, and even phone calls, scammers relentlessly spread fraudulent messages across the internet, amassing more than $1.3 billion in the last five years. The Federal Trade Commission corroborates that scammers stole a record $547 million in 2021 while an individual victim had a median loss of $2,400, dedicating thousands to deceit. Unfortunately, romance scams represent more financial losses than any other type of internet fraud. 

How do scammers manage this? The answer is timeliness: spams about “finding love” increased sevenfold as scammers manipulated the uncontrollable, prevalent loneliness induced by social-distancing and isolation during the pandemic. 

Exploiting the perpetual fear of being alone, forgotten, and excluded, romance scams appear to be a quick remedy for victims’ loneliness and vulnerability as they perceive everyone to be loved more than themselves. When victims click on these advertisements out of desperation, relief triumphs over all feelings of suspicion; the incomparable embarrassment stemming from self-comparison seems to be more frightening than falling for perfunctory, obvious deception. Since the beginning of the pandemic, serious loneliness has hiked to 36% of all Americans feeling it the majority of the time, and almost half of all young adults reported signs of loneliness. The pandemic has formed another health crisis that millions are hurting from, both mentally and financially. 

Teenagers are especially susceptible to romance fraud as malicious scammers tend to target a younger, ingenuous audience, translating into a tenfold increase in teen reports of fraud. After the pandemic, young people spend more time online and nearby internet scams. They receive genial direct messages on social media from scammers pretending to be young adults or meet suspicious people through dating apps but don’t question their identity, mistaking them for mutual friends. However, instead of curing loneliness, romance scams only exacerbate it as the salt on the wound. Rather than pouring thousands into unrequited, fabricated love, celebrate this Valentine’s day with the real people around you.