Analysis of 10,000 Romance Scam Victims Shows Surprising Results, Contradicts FTC
The explosion of romance scams
In 2019, romance scams cost Americans over $200 million (up 600% from 2015) and according to the FBI the situation is only worsening. Dating sites have shown themselves to be mostly unable to protect their users. Last year Match.com got sued by the FTC for allowing scammers on their platform because it increased platform engagement and revenue (Black Mirror, anyone?).
People of all walks of life are vulnerable (yes, it can happen to you). But, based on our study of 10,000 victims, certain demographic groups are far likelier to be preyed upon than others (and it’s not who you think).
We’ll get into the nitty gritty of who the victims are and where they live, and why our findings contradict the FTC. But first, a word about the scam.
The “dating verification” scam
The “dating verification” scam, where a scammer asks for a fake form of identity verification that costs money, such as a so-called Hookup ID, is the most widespread romance scam and impacts hundreds of thousands of online dating users.
The scam is run by a highly sophisticated international crime ring based in Eastern Europe, and includes fake “modeling agencies” that take advantage of young men and women to churn out thousands of alarmingly convincing fake dating profiles. Most scam victims loose a few hundred dollars or more by the time they catch on; those that don’t may end up loosing thousands.
A study of 10,000 victims
As a company that specializes in background checks for online dating, DateID naturally has a large number of users who’ve been scammed. In May of 2020 we analyzed anonymized user data on over 10,000 victims in order to determine at-risk populations. We also interviewed 15 victims.
Key findings contradict the FTC
The FTC stated in 2019 that romance scammers more frequently target older consumers (defined as being over 60), but our data shows that younger people, especially men, are being scammed more than anyone else. One explanation for the discrepancy is that younger people are underreporting scams (it’s known that people underreport, due to shame and embarrassment).
The FTC acknowledges that anyone can be a victim of a scam, but if they believe older individuals are the most likely to be targeted, they may be less likely to educate the other at-risk demographic groups.
What’s more, the most common scams listed on the FTC website are those the target women. Specifically, people are advised to watch out for people posing as military personnel, oil rig workers, and overseas doctors. However, our research showed that men are three times more likely to be victims. While these scams are common, they are far from being the most widespread.
Here’s more of what our research revealed:
- Only 7% of victims were over age 60
- Highest risk group is men, ages 25-44, in wealthy and educated states
- Men are 3x more likely to be scammed than women
- Scammers target wealthier and more educated US states
- Virginia and DC metro have the most scams per capita
Highest risk US states for romance scams
We looked at the total number of users who were being scammed and normalized the data to account for the population of each state, which resulted in a risk profile for each state. Here are the top 10 states where you are most likely to be scammed:
- Virginia and Washington, DC
State-by-state distribution of scams
Given that California has both a high risk profile and the largest population in the country, it’s no surprise there are more scams in California than anywhere else in the US (19%). After that is Texas (10%), followed by New York (6%). However, no states are safe.
Gender Distribution of scams
Men are three times more likely than women to be the target of a romance scam.
More young people fall for romance scams than any other group, contrary to popular belief.
How to avoid being the next victim
The good news? The “dating verification” scam may be the most widespread, but it’s also one of the easiest to spot. No matter how reasonable it may seem in the moment, if anyone is asking you for identity verification of any kind that is going to require you to put down money, you’re being scammed.
If you think you’re being scammed, report the profile to the dating app you’re on and cut off all communication. If you’ve already provided a credit card, call your bank and ask them to reverse the charge, and then cancel.
Read more about the scam on our blog.