Hey U.S. Government, The Romance Scammers Are Eating Americans Dry

Alexis C. Slaughter

Associate Editor

Loyola University School of Law, JD 2024

The rise of online dating and social media has brought people closer together but has also given rise to a growing threat: romance scams . These fraudulent schemes prey on individuals seeking love and companionship, resulting in emotional and financial devastation. These scams involve perpetrators who create fake online personas to deceive individuals into forming romantic connections. Once trust is established, scammers exploit emotions to extract money from their victims, often under the pretense of financial emergencies or travel expenses.

Romance scams have garnered significant attention  in the media due to their widespread impact on individuals and their emotional and financial consequences. Media coverage of romance scams serves multiple purposes: raising awareness among the public, providing support and information to victims, exposing the tactics of scammers, and fostering discussions on prevention and solutions. By amplifying these stories, the media helps to combat romance scams by empowering individuals with knowledge and encouraging them to take precautions when engaging in online relationships. In recent years, we have seen media coverage such as the “Dr. Phil ” show and a YouTube program called Scamfish doing more to help victims of romance scams. States like New York have begun introducing legislation requiring banks to alert customers about potential romance scams while conducting business. However, there have yet to be any clear paths to help prosecute these romance scammers or even help Americans get some or all their money back. The need for specific government regulation targeting romance scams is a challenge.

So precisely, what is the Government doing?

Governments often rely on existing legislation and frameworks to address cybercrime broadly, which may encompass elements of romance scams. Laws related to fraud, identity theft, hacking, and other cybercrimes can be applied to prosecute romance scammers, although they may not specifically target romance scams. Governments may also prioritize education and awareness campaigns to empower individuals to recognize and protect themselves from romance scams. These efforts aim to prevent victimization by promoting online safety, caution, and digital literacy rather than relying solely on regulatory measures. Some governments may encourage self-regulation and rely on industry initiatives to address romance scams.

All the U.S. Government is currently doing is raising awareness about romance scams. It is clearly not reaching the right people because, in 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) indicated that more than 56,000 Americans reported losing over $547 million in romance scams.

It is time to Regulate.

The FTC is the government agency that protects American consumers from romance scams. While there is no specific legislation, the FTC actively investigates and takes enforcement actions against deceptive practices, including romance scams, through its authority under the FTC Act. The agency also conducts consumer education campaigns to raise awareness and provide resources for individuals to protect themselves.

Over the last decade, romance scammers have used dating sites to prey on lonely and older individuals. Unfortunately, the government has given online platforms immunity when holding them liable for some of their users conducting these scams. The perpetrators are rarely apprehended in these scams, and restitution for the victims seldom happens. The U.S. Government needs to figure out how to help these victims recover the funds and prevent these scams from happening in general. Right now, billions of dollarsare traveling across U.S. borders electronically, and our government is unaware of where it’s going. For all we know, these romance scammers could be using the money obtained to support terrorist groups against our country financially. It is time to stop “raising awareness” about romance scams and take them as a severe threat to our nation’s security.

Tackling the Surge of Romance Scams: A Legislative Response

The sudden surge of romance scams in everyday media has forced some state legislators to respond by implementing policies. After the whole Tinder Swindler incident was portrayed through a Netflix  documentary, the average person is concerned that they could fall victim to a romance scammer. In response, the New York State Senate passed NY S 166, which necessitates financial institutions to alert consumers about romance scams whenever they intend to transfer funds electronically. As far as any other bills being implemented, only two have been introduced by House of Representatives member Adam Kinzinger , who represented Illinois’s 16th District in 2021. Combating romance scams is a complex challenge that requires a coordinated effort across multiple sectors. Effective regulation, enforcement, education, and support systems are essential components of a comprehensive approach to protect individuals from falling victim to these scams. Since 2022 and the Netflix documentary aired, no other states have enacted any regulation to protect Americans.

Legislators aiming to combat romance scams should prioritize a multifaceted approach addressing prevention and enforcement. Firstly, they should focus on enhancing consumer education and awareness campaigns, ensuring that individuals are well-informed about the signs and risks of romance scams. This can be achieved through partnerships with online dating platforms, social media networks, and educational institutions to disseminate information widely. Secondly, legislators should hold online platforms accountable for providing a safer environment. This entails setting clear standards for identity verification, background checks, and monitoring for suspicious activities on dating websites and social media platforms.

Moreover, stricter penalties and enforcement mechanisms should be in place to deter scammers and prosecute those engaged in these fraudulent activities. Legislators should empower law enforcement agencies to ensure that resources are allocated to effectively investigate and prosecute romance scams. Additionally, legislators should consider establishing a centralized reporting system for victims to report romance scams, making it easier for authorities to track and combat these crimes. Lastly, international cooperation and information-sharing agreements should be fostered to combat cross-border romance scams effectively. By addressing these aspects comprehensively, legislators can take significant steps to mitigate the impact of romance scams and protect individuals from financial and emotional harm.

The explosion of romance scams in today’s digital age has reached alarming levels, necessitating stringent regulation to protect vulnerable individuals from financial and emotional devastation. Regulatory measures must be implemented to compel online platforms and financial institutions to implement robust safeguards to address this growing issue.