Romance scams skyrocketed in 2021 nearly 80% from 2020, according to data from The Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Alleged victims of romance-based scams have lost more than $1.3 billion in the last five years, according to the agency.
In one such instance, Ghanian nationals Linda Mbimadong, 29, and Richard Broni, 31, were sentenced Friday in federal court in Virginia for taking part in an elaborate scheme that involved scamming a 78-year-old Annandale man out of $580,000, ABC News reported.
Mbimadong and Broni were sentenced to 36 months and 19 months in prison respectively, The Washington Post reported.
During the sentencing, Mbimadong apologized to the judge and said she was “selfish, ambitious and greedy for success,” the news outlet reported.
According to prosecutors, the pair were described as “money mules.” Though they never met their victims, they helped receive and launder money in return for a 5% to 10% cut, ABC reported.
The pair were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Additionally, Mbimadong was charged with making false statements to law enforcement during the investigation, according to a news release by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The man, whose name was not released, reportedly created an account on the online dating platform iFlirt, where he connected with a member of the conspiracy, officials said.
“Posing as a young widow who had inherited gold bars, or as a diplomat assisting people in dire straits overseas, Mbimadong, Broni, and other co-conspirators allegedly tricked elderly victims into sending the conspirators large sums of money,” authorities said.
The second victim was a 74-year-old woman who was contacted on Facebook by one of the conspirators on or around March 2021, their conversation shifted to email and text. She lost approximately $80,000 from her retirement savings, officials said.
Victims of this particular scam were also directed to purchase brand new Apple MacBooks and mail them to a conspirator, officials said.
Prosecutors said they have identified two dozen victims of the conspiracy who lost a combined $660,000. Nationwide, reports of romance-related scams have risen exponentially, according to the FTC. In the past five years, people have reported losing $1.3 billion to romance scams, a figure that is more than any other FTC fraud category.
“The numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, and 2021 was no exception – reported losses hit a record $547 million for the year,” the FTC said. “That’s more than six times the reported losses in 2017 and a nearly 80% increase compared to 2020.”
The median individual victim of such a scam reported losing $2,400 in 2021.
According to the FTC, reports about romance scams increased for every age group in 2021. People ages 18 to 29 saw a tenfold increase in the number of romance scams they experienced from 2017 to 2021, but the older a victim was, the more likely they were to have reported to have lost more.
“People 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,000, compared to $750 for the 18 to 29 age group,” the FTC said.
The FTC advises anyone suspicious of a scam to report questionable profiles or messages to the dating app or social media platform on which they encounter the individuals and to report the suspicious pages to the FTC.