romance scams

I’m so pleased we met. I love you. I can’t wait to see you. I’ve scheduled a flight for next month.

Finally, you’ve found your dream match. But then…

I’ve had an accident. Can you help me with my medical bills?

My luggage is stuck in customs. Can you submit some paperwork and payments for me?

Unfortunately, our estimates suggest that for nearly 57,000 Americans in 2023, the saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” has likely become a haunting, real-life nightmare. Scammed for over $638.6 million by fraudsters, not only have these victims been left out of pocket, but they’ve also been left humiliated, frightened, and heartbroken.

But it’s not all bad news. According to our estimates, 2023 may have seen a 14 percent year-on-year drop in the number of romance scams (from just over 66,300 in 2022 to around 57,000 in 2023). Likewise, the amount lost to romance scams likely dropped by just over 19 percent from $791.8 million in 2022 to $638.6 million last year.

While this drop in figures may suggest hackers are directing their attention to more lucrative schemes with higher financial gains–such as cryptocurrency and investment scams–romance scams could still be playing a key role in scam campaigns.

The FBI, for example, anticipated “a higher reported financial loss due to a trend in International Crypto Investment Fraud as part of romance scams” in 2023. And in its 2022 IC3 report, it noted a 183 percent increase in the amount lost to crypto investment scams–rising from $907 million in 2021 to $2.57 billion in 2022.

So while romance scam figures may be declining, this could be due to this type of scam being used to execute a bigger, more financially rewarding schemes. This, in turn, leads to ‘romance scams’ falling into other categories when they’re reported–something the AARP recently reported on, too. It suggests romance and investment scams are becoming double-barreled scams as victims are promised love and money. “The deception starts out as romance fraud and transforms into a cryptocurrency investment fraud in which victims have lost millions of dollars.”

To get an idea of the extent of romance scams on a state-by-state basis, Comparitech analyzed data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Better Business Bureau (BBB), and American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Using 2022 data and all of the available data for 2023 so far, we’ve been able to create estimates for the entire year to try and understand the true picture of romance scams in 2023.

Key findings:

  • An estimated 56,796 people fell victim to romance scams in 2023–a 14 percent decrease from 2022 (66,307)
  • Losses from these scams fell by 19 percent from $791.8 million in 2022 to a predicted $638.6 million in 2023
  • The FTC saw a 16 percent decrease in the number of romance scams reported in the first three quarters of 2023 (compared to the same period in 2022), declining from 37,906 to 31,882
  • The estimated losses over these three quarters also dropped from $81.1 million to $60.5 million
  • The BBB saw a 14 percent increase in romance scams (from 251 to 287)
  • The AARP saw a 65 percent decrease in the number of cases it saw in 2022 (from 269 to 95) –however, a change in overall reporting may have caused these figures to drop more significantly

States with the highest rates of romance scams per 100,000 people

The states with the highest number of romance scams are also the most populous of the United States, so there isn’t much surprise with the figures. However, if we take a look at the rate of romance scams per 100,000 people, we can see that the top states aren’t the highly populated ones. Rather, the states with the highest rates of romance scams are:

  1. Arizona – 25.91 romance scams per 100,000 people
  2. District of Columbia – 24.92 romance scams per 100,000 people
  3. Oregon – 24.21 romance scams per 100,000 people
  4. Washington – 22.80 romance scams per 100,000 people
  5. Alaska – 22.04 romance scams per 100,000 people

As the below map also shows, the highest rates of romance scams per 100,000 tend to be in western or northeastern states.

States with the highest number of romance scams and losses

The top five states with the highest number of romance scams and/or losses are:

  1. California – 6,742 romance scams with a total loss of $126.4 million
  2. Florida – 4,371 romance scams with a total loss of $51.8 million
  3. Texas – 4,269 romance scams with a total loss of $52.1 million
  4. New York – 3,044 romance scams with a total loss of $28.3 million
  5. Arizona – 1,853 romance scams with a total loss of $28.8 million

States with the highest and lowest average loss per romance scam

Despite having high figures, only one of the above states made it into the top three highest average losses per scam (according to IC3 2022 data). The states with the highest average loss per romance scam were:

  1. District of Columbia – $126,151
  2. California – $72,239
  3. North Dakota – $59,328

In contrast, the states with the lowest averages per romance scam were:

  1. Puerto Rico – $6,765
  2. Vermont – $13,338
  3. Wyoming – $14,190


Are romance scams finally starting to decline?

In 2021, FTC’s records show that romance scam figures reached an all-time high with 59,690 reported scams. In 2022, these figures declined by 18 percent in 2022 to 48,817.

So far, the FTC has only released Q1, Q2, and Q3 figures for 2023, which amount to 31,882 cases. As noted previously, this is a 16 percent decrease on the same period the year prior (37,906). If Q4 follows a similar trend to the first three-quarters of 2023 (we used the average figures for each quarter for each state to estimate Q4), we estimate that the FTC will receive 42,509 reports for 2023. This would show a 13 percent year-on-year decrease in overall case figures.

In Q1, Q2, and Q3 of 2023, the FTC noted a median loss of $2,000, $1,850, and $1,841 respectively to romance scams. When multiplied by the number of cases from Q1 to Q3, this creates losses of nearly $60.5 million. During the same periods of 2022, the median losses were higher (Q1 = $2,420, Q2 = $2,000, Q3 = $2,000), generating total losses of $81.1 million. That’s a 25.4 percent drop in losses.

FTC Romance Scam Figures

Please note: The total romance scam figures reported by the FTC are always higher than the total of our individual state figures. Some reports are not assigned to a specific state due to lack of location data.

The IC3 tells a similar story with a steady increase in romance scams from 2016 to 2021 before a decline in 2022.

From 2016 to 2021, the IC3 has noted a 68 percent increase in romance scam reports (from 14,500 in 2016 to 24,300 in 2021) and a 335 percent increase in the amount lost to these scams (from $220 million in 2016 to $956 million in 2021). This has meant a 162 percent increase in the average amount lost per scam, too – increasing from $15,000 in 2016 to $39,300 in 2021.

In 2022, figures declined by 22 percent, dropping from 24,299 in 2021 to 19,021 in 2022. Similarly, the amount lost to these scams dropped by around $200 million (from $956 million in 2021 to $736 million in 2022). The average cost per scam remained high, reducing only slightly from $39,345 to $38,688.

Based on the IC3’s 2022 figures and the increase/decrease seen within each state, we estimate that romance scam cases reported to the IC3 could be around 14,000 in 2023. Using the average losses witnessed in 2022, this would equate to a total loss of $552 million in romance scams reported to the IC3 alone.

IC3 Romance Scam Figures

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported an increase in romance scams from 2022 to 2023, rising by 14 percent from 251 to 287. Last year, the BBB noted 377 romance scams in its scam tracker, which is significantly lower than 2022’s figure of 579. However, many of these reports haven’t been assigned to a state. We only use the reports that were allocated to a state (287 in total) in our state estimates.

The data reported by the BBB also appears to follow the FBI’s warning of increased investment scams via romance scams. Throughout 2023, 72 of the scams reported to the BBB involved cryptocurrency payments or investment-based scams. These scams led to a reported loss of just over $5 million–nearly 60 percent of the total losses reported via the BBB.

These types of scams, also referred to as ‘pig-butchering scams’ work whereby the scammer claims to be knowledgeable in cryptocurrency and able to double, triple, or quadruple their victim’s money. While the crypto account appears to look real, once the victim asks to extract funds, they are either refused or are met with taxes and fees on top of the money they have already deposited and lost.

In contrast to the BBB, AARP figures show a large decline in reported cases from 2022 to 2023, dropping 65 percent from 269 to 95 reports. These drops are more drastic than others, which we believe may be due to a change in how romance scams are categorized.

Despite romance scam figures reducing significantly across the board, cybercriminals still use the tactic to scam victims. Rather, ‘seducing’ victims and tricking them into making investments or trading in crypto appears to be an increasingly common tactic.

As well as investment/crypto scams, a number of other scams may be diluting romance scam figures. These include sextortion. The FBI recently warned about a rise in sextortion cases, especially among children and teens. Throughout 2022, the FBI received 7,000 reports relating to the online sextortion of minors.

Sextortion may fall under romance scams for adults but these types of scams are heavily unreported due to victim embarrassment. In many cases, the scammer will obtain (or claim to have obtained) intimate images of the victim and will threaten to post them online or share them with friends and family if they don’t provide more compromising images or pay them money. The mainstream adoption of generative AI makes the creation of fake images much easier and more convincing.

The true cost of romance scams to date could amount to over $535 billion

While the figures we mention above make for stark reading, it’s likely that they’re only half the story, because many online scams go under the radar.

Romance scams are highly unreported due to many victims feeling ashamed of having been scammed and how difficult it is to trace the scammers. One survey conducted by the AARP found that 14 percent of US adults had been targeted by a relationship scam and 4 percent were a victim of this type of crime. 57 percent of victims lost money or suffered other financial losses due to these scams.

Based on the current US population of 336 million people and 4 percent of these having fallen victim to a romance scam, that would suggest that 13.4 million Americans have been victimized by a romance scammer.

Now, let’s compare that to the number of reports that have been received (up to 2022–we won’t include estimates here). IC3 data for romance scams goes back to 2011 with 169,898 reports. The FTC data goes back to 2012 with 264,557 reported. BBB received 1,499 reports from 2015 to 2022, while the AARP received 779 reports between 2019 and 2022. This gives us a total of 436,733 reports, which would mean just 3.26 percent of romance scams are reported.

Even if we allow some room for error and other reports (in previous years, romance scams were perhaps included in another category), only a fraction of the 4 percent of people who fall victim to these scams each year actually report them.

Let’s take a look at how much money could have been lost in each state, based on 4 percent of the population being a victim of these scams and using 2022’s average loss per scam in each state (based on IC3’s data):

Based on the state data we have available for how much the average victim loses, and factoring in unreported romance scams, we can see that as much as $535 billion could have been lost to these scams.

What are the key warning signs of a romance scam?

If you do meet someone online, even if it seems like a natural occurrence (i.e. some scammers befriend people on apps like Words with Friends), look out for these key warning signs that they may be a scammer:

  • They ask you to move away from a dating website to communicate. For example, they may request that you chat with them through Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, or private email.
  • They ask a lot of questions about you but don’t give much away about themselves.
  • They say they’re in the military abroad, they work abroad (i.e. on an oil rig), or they’re helping out abroad (i.e. at an orphanage). They may also say they’re a highly-qualified professional, i.e. a scientist or doctor who’s working abroad.
  • They have poor spelling or grammar yet claim to be highly educated.
  • They seem to move the relationship quickly, declaring their love or telling you that they’ve never felt this way before.
  • They say they want to meet up but find numerous excuses not to, i.e. working abroad, canceled flights, or have financial troubles.
  • They ask for money. Even if it is only for a small amount – be wary of anyone asking for financial help. Scammers frequently ask for help in the form of payment/gift cards, too, such as iTunes, Amazon, Steam, or Google Play cards.
  • They ask if they can send you a package. In scams, the “package” gets held up in “customs” and you need to pay to have the goods released.
  • They say their spouse has died of cancer and they are trying to look after their son/daughter.
  • Scammers are often blackmailing victims by building a relationship with them, asking for nude photos to make them vulnerable and then threatening to post those pictures on the internet if they don’t send money in return. The same goes for video calls, sometimes only for a few seconds so they can photoshop the victims face onto an explicit image.
  • The FBI has warned people of a rising trend in which scammers are persuading victims to send money to invest or trade cryptocurrency, just one of the new tactics romance scammers are using.

If any of these apply to someone you’ve just met or certain alarm bells are ringing, protect yourself by:

  • Ceasing all communication with them.
  • Talking to a loved one or friend to get their opinion.
  • Searching for any images they’ve sent you using Google’s image reversing tool. Oftentimes, scammers will steal someone’s identity so you may find the image belongs to someone else.
  • Looking for scams that sound similar to the stories you’ve been told. For example, if they say they’re in they’re trying to get discharged from the military or are working on an oil rig, look for other stories that sound similar.


To get overall figures for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, we used 2022 data from the IC3, FTC, BBB, and AARP, and all of the available data for 2023 from the latter three.

IC3 Data: Data categorized as “Confidence/Romance Scams.” Reports are reviewed and researched before being passed on to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies. To estimate 2023’s figures, we used the percentage increase/decrease witnessed in each state from 2021 to 2022 before multiplying by the average loss per victim seen in 2022.

For example, in Alabama, romance scams dropped from 259 to 206 from 2021 to 2022. That’s a 20.46 percent decrease year on year. This percent decrease was then applied to 2022’s figure (206) to estimate 2023’s figure of 164. The average victim loss in Alabama in 2022 was $23,324. This was then multiplied by our estimated number of cases for 2023 to get a total $ amount lost for the year ($3,821,688).

FTC Data: As the FTC doesn’t provide state-by-state figures for romance scams (as it is a subcategory of imposter scams), we calculate the percentage of overall imposter scams that relate to romance scams based on the total figures available. For Q1, Q2, and Q3 of 2023, this was 7.18 percent. The FTC does provide a median loss for romance scams per quarter which was applied to the figures we derived from the imposter scams.

In order to estimate Q4 figures for the FTC, we looked at the average across the first three quarters of the year for each. These were then applied accordingly to gather estimates for the final quarter of 2023.

For example, Alabama reported 122 romance scams in Q1, 140 in Q2, and 125 in Q3. The average across these three quarters equaled 129 romance scams, which gave the estimated figures for Q4.

BBB Data: Data categorized as “Romance Scams” and submitted against companies – i.e., fraudulent dating websites, psychics, and romance scammers who ask people to send money to a business. Complaints were investigated by the BBB.

AARP Data: Data categorized as “Online Dating Scams” or “Online Relationship Scams”. Help may be provided or cases may be referred to local law enforcement. It does appear that AARP may have changed the way it now reports on online dating scams, which may provide a reason as to why figures have dropped so drastically.

When discussing the overall figures for the IC3 and FTC, figures may be higher than the total of all the states included in our study. This is due to our study only featuring the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The IC3 and FTC include other areas, e.g. the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. Some cases don’t have location data so aren’t assigned to a specific state.

State populations:

Researcher: Charlotte Bond