For the pragmatist, whose calculations favor decimal points in place of heart palpitations, the question is a simple matter of dollars and cents: How much is a broken heart worth?
Shield your eyes, idealists: approximately $8,900.
Every year, the National White Collar Crime Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the “prevention, investigation, and prosecution of economic and high tech crime,” releases a report (PDF) that provides an overview of the latest data and trends in online criminal activity. The statistics, which are compiled by the organization’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in conjunction with the FBI, are based on more than 300,000 complaints that detail the depraved – and, admittedly, fascinating – world of cyber crime and online fraud.
Of all of the various types of Internet fraud perpetrated against the public, which include shockingly high incidents of work-from-home, auto auction, loan intimidation, and FBI impersonation email scams, the most tragic are those that prey on the lovelorn: romance scams.
In 2011 alone, romance scams cost Americans more than all of the other common fraud schemes combined: more than 50 million dollars.
$50,399,563.16, to be exact – approximately $8,900 per victim.
Romance scams, which the IC3 receives complaints about at a rate of 15 per day, follow a familiar script: in chat rooms and on dating and social networking sites, scammers seek out individuals in search of companionship or romance. According to the IC3 report, many use “poetry, flowers and other gifts to reel in victims, while declaring ‘undying love.’” The criminals supplement their romantic offerings with “stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, family deaths, personal injuries or other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes.” Then, they request financial assistance – and the checks come rolling in.
Perhaps not surprisingly, women constituted the majority of the victims in the 2011 report, losing nearly $40 million to romance scams, or 80% of the total. And of those women, most were over 40 years old, divorced or widowed, disabled, and often elderly. The characterization of the “typical” prey of such romance scams is truly heartbreaking: a single woman in her early fifties, lonely and seeking companionship, who is swayed by gifts of roses and sympathizes with sob stories.
And, before she knows it, has wasted nearly ten thousand dollars on the empty promises of a stranger.
It’s very probable that the incidents of online fraud, both romance and other, are much higher than the estimates of the IC3 report, due in part to the shame that many victims of fraud report experiencing. The site offers fraud prevention tips aimed at educating the public about the dangers of online criminal activity and how to avoid falling prey to a scam.
It’s just not worth the cost of a broken heart.