New Hampshire residents are smarter than average when it comes to avoiding romance scams, but not smart enough to avoid losing more than three times the money in 2022 as they did in 2021 to such scams, a new study found.
Online fraud investigation company Social Catfish analyzed FBI and Federal Trade Commission data, and polled more than 3,000 victims of romance scams to determine how residents of each state fared in 2022. Romance scammers use fake photos and online accounts and believable lies to lure victims into parting with their money.
The amount of money Granite Staters lost to romance scams in 2022 was 155% of the amount lost in 2021, making the state fourth in the nation for year-over-year increase, the study found.
Some 71 New Hampshire residents lost a state record $2.6 million to romance scams in 2022 – at least that’s what was reported to law enforcement and agencies that the FTC gathers data from. The number was likely much more, industry experts say.
The amount lost ranked New Hampshire 37th in the U.S., up from 48th in 2021, but the average per victim, $36,529, was 21st in the country.
Overall, nearly 70,000 Americans reported losing $1.3 billion to romance scams in 2022, the FTC found. That’s a 138% increase from $547 million in 2021. Romance and other imposter scams were the top form of fraud in the U.S. in 2022, the FTC determined from victim reports made to the agency, as well as information from the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, AARP, attorneys general from several states (though not New Hampshire) and other agencies.
“The 138% jump last year is by far the largest this country has ever seen,” Social Catfish said in its report, released Wednesday. “Despite increased government warnings, pop culture shows like ‘The Tinder Swindler’ — which aired last year on Netflix — and increased public awareness, romance scams continue to leave an unprecedented number of Americans broke and heartbroken.”
Ahead of New Hampshire for biggest percentage of increase of money lost was Arkansas, with a 398.1% increase; New Mexico, 268.7%; and Maine, 216.3%.
New Hampshire was ranked 29th for fraud in general by the FTC, which received 11,655 fraud reports from state residents in 2022, representing 860 per 100,000 in population. Granite Staters lost $18.3 million to fraud overall, including romance scams, in 2022, the agency found.
The FBI in its breakdown of fraud losses found that romance/imposter scams were the fourth most costly of those that New Hampshire residents reported to law enforcement (not all law enforcement agencies in the state report to the FBI). Residents reported $2.4 million in romance fraud and imposter scams, behind investment fraud ($14 million), tech support fraud ($4.5 million) and business email compromise (BEC), which is a phishing or hacking attack to a company’s email account ($2.6 million).
What is a romance scam?
Romance scams are a type of confidence fraud or imposter scam in which the scammer develops a relationship, either brief or long-term, with the victim to swindle money from them. Sometimes the scammer asks for compromising photos or other information to leverage against the victim or use for their own purposes.
The FBI says that it’s likely that most people who are victims of a romance scam don’t report it.
“The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable,” an FBI report on the scams last year said. “The scammer’s intention is to quickly establish a relationship, endear himself/herself to the victim, gain trust, and eventually ask for money.”
Scammers lie to victims about some dire circumstance or other situation for which they need money, that they claim they can’t access themselves. Usually the excuse for not being able to access money is a frozen bank account, a cash flow issue, lack of internet, or some other legitimate-sounding reason.
Top ploys used by romance and imposter scammers tied money requests are:
- I’m hurt, sick or in jail – 24%
- I can teach you how to invest – 18%
- I’m in the military or far away – 18%
- I need help with an important delivery – 18%
- I love you and want to marry you (though we’ve never met in person) – 12%
- I’ve come into some money (or something of value, like gold) but need money to get it – 7%
- I’m on an oil rig or ship – 6%
- You can trust me with your private pictures – 3%
Scammers also ask for payment in ways that make it hard, or impossible, to get the money back. The top payment method requested was gift cards, at 24%. Other methods are cryptocurrency (which accounted for the largest amounts lost), payment apps like Zelle and bank or wire transfers. Scammers are skilled in using methods that part people from their money in ways that are difficult to trace or be reimbursed for.
Social Catfish polled more than 3,000 romance scam victims from across the country and found:
- 75% had at least some form of college education and 13% had graduate degrees.
- 84% make less than $100,000 a year and 40% make less than $40,000.
- 10% lost more than $100,000 and 4% lost more than $200,000.
- 35% were retired, with many having to reenter the workforce to pay for the financial hit.
Top romance scams of 2023
There is a rise in romance scammers pretending to be celebrities on social media, the online investigation company found.
A scammer pretending to be singer Bruno Mars stole $100,000 from a woman in Texas. Another used a stolen photo of singer Blake Shelton to scam money out of a woman who thought she was entering a singing contest.
One potential victim was asked by a fake Keanu Reeves to send $400,000 to help finance the latest John Wick movie. That victim was suspicious and reported the scam, but didn’t send money, Social Catfish said.
“If a rich celebrity claims to have fallen in love with you – and asks for money – it is a scam, and you should block and report them on social media,” Social Catfish said in its report.
Crypto currency is another rising scam method. The scammer pretends to have made a lot of money with crypto and convinces the victim to invest, too, by downloading an app, which shows fake returns.
Another rising scam is use of stolen military photos to catfish a person (trick them into thinking the scammer is someone who wants a relationship). The scammer pretends that since they’re a member of the military stationed overseas, they can’t meet in person or use video conferencing.
“Never give money to anyone that can’t meet in person or video chat,” Social Catfish advised.
Photos of attractive people are used to create fake social media accounts and lure victims. Social Catfish recently published a report showing the 100 most common photos used by scammers. The company analyzed data from 10 million users who performed a reverse image search in 2022 to verify someone’s online identity, and then calculated which photos were used fraudulently the most often.
The vast majority of the top 100 photos are of attractive young women with prominent cleavage, with attractive young men in military uniform also well-represented. There is also a handful of middle-aged men with rugged facial stubble and one middle-aged woman who looks like a business professional in the top 100.
The photos are often stolen from people’s social media and sometimes altered to disguise the identity of the real person. Social Catfish found that 86% of social media influencers reported that photos of them had been stolen from their account. Scammers also use stock photos.
“The goal of the person catfishing is usually to deceive the other person into thinking they are someone they are not, often with the intention of gaining the trust of the victim and eventually asking for money or some other form of assistance,” Social Catfish said.
Google and other internet browsers have a tool to do a reverse image search, and Social Catfish recommends using them to confirm a person’s identity if you meet them on the internet and only have a photo to go by.
The company also recommends an “exhaustive search” using other internet tools. If you can’t find any information about a person who’s contacting you through social media or email, and can’t verify their identity, then it’s likely a scam, Social Catfish said.
Some of the red flags of a romance scam is that the person asks for money; they can’t video chat, talk on the phone or meet in person; they contact you out of the blue; whatever they’re offering seems too good to be true.
“Remember to be cautious when communicating with someone online and never give out personal or financial information unless you are sure it is safe to do so,” the online investigation company said. “If you suspect that you have fallen victim to a romance scam, report it to the relevant authorities immediately.”