Romance scams are on the rise. In 2019, people lost $201 million to romance scams — a nearly 40 percent increase from 2018, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But this number may only scratch the surface. The FBI estimates that only 15 percent of romance scams ever get reported.
Romance scams happen when someone pretends to be a love interest and robs a victim, often out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. For some victims, it’s their entire life savings. But if they don’t report their losses, these victims won’t be able to get any of the money back, and cons can continue to target others. Yet, some people would rather take the loss than come forward as a victim of a romance scam. These are some reasons why victims of romance scams often stay silent.
Read the comments section on an article about scams, and you’ll likely find a few people who call the victim an “idiot.” When Dr. Phil did a show on love scams in 2014, he questioned one guest on how she could send a person she only knew for a month nearly $11,000. But this rhetoric is harmful. Research shows that blaming the victims may make people less likely to report the crime and get help. Victims of romance scams have already been emotionally manipulated by someone pretending to love them — it’s understandable they don’t want to also be called “stupid” by friends, family and people on the Internet.
Victim Blames Self
Even if no one calls the victim foolish, the victim may feel that way anyway. Hindsight is always 20/20. Maybe the victim feels they should have known not to send someone so much money or asked to see an obituary for the scammer’s dead spouse. They may feel they should have asked more questions or wish they pressed the person to chat via Zoom rather than keeping everything in a messenger service. If the victim blames themselves, they may think they don’t deserve retribution and instead stay silent.
Law Enforcement Discounts Story
Even if a romance scam victim does go to the police, law enforcement may make them feel ashamed by mocking or discrediting them. “One victim told me that, when she first reported her experience to law enforcement, the male officer asked, ‘What are you doing on a dating website at your age?’” Christing Beining, a Florida-based FBI agent, told The Atlantic in 2018. This type of language may make victims less likely to pursue further action, which in turn allows the bad actor to con others.
Why You Shouldn’t Stay Silent If You’re a Romance Scam Victim
Reporting scams is important. It allows you to get your money back (potentially) and stops the con from stealing from someone else. If you or someone you love is a romance scam victim, report it to the FTC or local authorities.
How We Can Help Stop Romance Scam Shaming
We can all play a part in making romance scam victims feel safer in telling their stories.
- Watch What You Say: Refrain from using words like “stupid” and “what an idiot” when speaking about romance scams. Put the blame where it belongs — on the criminal.
- Encourage People to Come Forward: If someone you love is a romance scam victim, encourage them to go to the police or FTC. Offer to drive them, so they don’t feel so alone.
- See Something, Say Something: If a talk show host or columnist makes fun of a romance scam victim or engages in victim-blaming, write letters to the network or editor expressing displeasure.