Valentine’s Day: A Holiday Ripe for Romance Scams

Several warning signals may point to the possibility of an online interaction being fraudulent.

Perpetrators of romance scams operate year-round, but the Valentine’s Day season sees heightened activity across the globe, including the U.S., U.K., and Australia. As individuals increasingly look to connect with others over dating apps and social media, criminals have a broader base of potential targets from which to choose.  

What is a romance scam, and how can folks spot them and protect themselves?  

A romance scam involves a criminal (operating solo or as part of a network) who connects with his or her target over a dating app, social media, or messaging service (such as WhatsApp) and builds a seemingly authentic rapport. After having established a romantic connection with the target, the scammer manipulates that person into sending them money, oftentimes involving cryptocurrency or a bank wire. Sometimes, a romance scammer will even use a victim as an unwitting money mule, in which the victim illegally transfers money on behalf of the scammer.  

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 70,000 individuals in the U.S. were victimized by a romance scam in 2022, with losses totaling an astonishing US$1.3 billion.1 The situation in the U.K. is similarly dismal: in 2023, romance scam reports increased by 20% from 2022, with an average loss of 6,937 pounds.2 The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) also reported a sharp rise in people falling prey to romance scams, with 3,698 cases reported in 2022, an increase of 8% from the year prior.3 Sadly, scammers are increasingly targeting the elderly in romance scams due to their perceived lack of technological savvy, coupled with their increased financial stability. Scammers often look to prey on widows and widowers, who might be more vulnerable to romantic advances as they grapple with loneliness. 

Indicators of a Romance Scam  

There are several key indicators that an online interaction might be a scam. The person on the other side of the screen will usually exhibit several of the following:  

  • Photos that look professional, similar to a stock or model photo 
  • Excuses as to why they cannot meet in-person or speak on a video call 
  • Rapid and excessive declarations of affection and/or love 
  • A story about a tragic, costly life event, such as an illness and/or hospitalization 
  • Requests for personal information and/or money 
  • Displays of anger should the target be unwilling to comply with their demands 

In general, individuals should always exercise caution when communicating with an unknown person on a dating app or social media platform. By approaching connections with a healthy dose of skepticism and ceasing communication should there be red flags—such as requests for money—people will be much better-equipped to navigate this dangerous landscape.  

Steps to Take in Case of Victimization 

If people suspect they are interacting with a scammer, they should stop all communication immediately. If they have already given out personal information and/or sent money to the scammer, they should take the following steps: 

  • Contact the bank or company through which their transaction(s) was processed 
  • Retain all evidence of interactions with the scammer to be used in investigations 
  • Report it to the appropriate government agency; in the U.S., this is the FTC 
  • Notify the site or app where they met the scammer   

Whether the lost funds can be recouped is highly dependent on the exact nature of the scam. Beyond the financial devastation, many victims feel intense emotional reactions, such as shame and heartbreak—making this an especially cruel type of scam.  

The Future of Romance Scams 

Going forward, we predict that romance scams will become increasingly sophisticated as generative AI-driven deepfakes gain traction. Generative AI produces more realistic text, and the adoption of dating apps and new forms of social media accelerate. Scammers will find it easier to create content and scale up their operations, and global financial uncertainty will result in increased financial criminals as people struggle to make ends meet.  

For further exploration on financial crime in the digital space and scam detection, and how they are likely to develop, read Datos Insights’ Impact Reports Trends in Fraud in the Digital Channel and On the Frontier of Scam Detection: Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before. As always, our advisors are happy to provide their insights and engage in further discussion on the scam landscape.