Online ‘Sextortion’ Scams up Eightfold, FTC Says

Aleutie/Getty Images

Consumers paid $1.3 billion to romance scammers in 2022.

Approximately 70,000 people fell for romance scams costing $1.3 billion in 2022, the FTC warned on Thursday, with a marked increase in scammers using sexually explicit images to extort money from victims.

The data indicated that consumers’ median reported loss was $4,400.

The FTC noted that scammers are paying careful attention to the information their targets are sharing to not “miss a beat becoming [their target’s] perfect match.” However, they will never be able to meet in real life. 

The report showed that scammers favorite lines were some version of:

  • “I or someone close to me is sick, hurt or in jail.”
  • “I can teach you how to invest.”
  • “I’m in the military far away.”
  • “I need help with an important delivery.”
  • “We’ve never met, but let’s talk about marriage.”
  • “I’ve come into some money or gold.”
  • “I’m on an oil rig or ship.”
  • “You can trust me with your private pictures.”

Approximately 24% of consumers heard the line that the scammer or their friend or relative was sick. 

According to the FTC, the data also demonstrates an eightfold growth in sextortion scams—“when a romance scammer convinces a consumer to share explicit photos and then threatens to share those photos with the consumer’s social media contacts”—from 2019 to 2022. Moreover, individuals 18-29 are six times more likely than older consumers to report this type of romance scam. In 2022, about 58% of sextortion reports were contacted on social media, with most being messaged on Instagram or Snapchat.

FTC data illustrates that consumers were most often contacted by scammers on dating apps or through private messages on social media, but pushed to move the conversations to encrypted apps like WhatsApp, Google Chat and Telegram.

Consumers reported losing the most money if they sent it in cryptocurrency, however, most people sent money through gift cards. 

Last year, the FTC released a similar report for 2021, showing a large increase in scams, in part because of cryptocurrency and romance scams.