In the modern dating age there’s a variety of online dating apps and social networking sites for seniors looking to meet someone new. Millions of people log on to these networks in hopes of bringing a little romance and joy into their life, but instead of finding a potential new partner they find an online scammer or con artist who hopes to trick a vulnerable older adult into sending them money.
Unfortunately, this happens all the time. If you’ve experienced this yourself know that you’re not alone. Older users, in particular, are more often targeted by this type of scam — and most don’t realize they are a victim until it is too late. Reports collected by the Federal Trade Commission from consumers and local law enforcement show how online romance fraud is increasing at an alarming rate. In 2015, people reported losing $33 million to romance scams; last year, they lost $201 million — more than victims lost to fake lotteries and sweepstakes, impostor frauds or tech support phishing.
The FBI warns that, in addition to losing money to these con artists, victims may also have unknowingly taken part in money laundering schemes or shipped stolen merchandise.
“When scammers pose online as legitimate romantic partners only to manipulate victims into giving away their life savings, it creates devastating financial impacts to victims, especially our older Americans,” said Inspector in Charge Joseph W. Cronin of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Boston Division. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting our citizens and working hard to seek prosecution of scammers who take advantage of our elders.”
If you think you’re safe by staying off of online dating apps keep in mind many con artists now find victims on other unsuspecting social media platforms. Everything from Facebook and Instagram to games like Word with Friends. Let’s take a look at the most common dating scam for seniors and red flags to look for when you’re talking to someone new on the internet.
What is the most common online dating scam targeting seniors? The Sweetheart Scam.
The Sweetheart Scam is one of the most common ways of preying upon lonely and sometimes isolated victims for financial gain. Scammers create fake online dating profiles, social media profiles, and use stolen photos to pretend to be someone they’re not. Often people wonder how anyone could fall in love with someone on the internet and get duped into sending money to someone they haven’t met, but scammers use subtle manipulation tactics that reel people in by getting to know them, building a false sense of trust, convincing the person they’re soul mates, then using those emotions as a way to guilt the person into wiring them money.
Love is a powerful emotion and it’s easy to get swept up with someone. If you’ve been defrauded in this way before don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. Understand that most scammers do this as their sole source of income, they often scam multiple people at a time, and they have a lot of experience manipulating people. Most people would go out of their way to help their loved ones or anyone they care about if they asked. Scammers know this, they prey upon the kindness of others, and it’s exactly why this scam works so well.
Tips for seniors to avoid being scammed:
Listen to your intuition
If someone seems too good to be true they usually are. Is the person in your town or do they claim to live in a far away country? Online dating scammers aren’t usually in the same area as the person they’re scamming. They will say they’re from the United States but just happen to coincidentally be living or traveling outside of the country the same time they’re talking to you.
Many scammers will claim they have one of three jobs:
- working on an oil rig
- they’re in the military
- they’re a doctor with an international organization
You might also notice this person claims to be from the U.S. but they make frequent spelling or grammar mistakes that a native English speaker wouldn’t. If anything they tell you about themselves raises your suspicions it’s a good idea to take a step back, consider why their story doesn’t make sense, and shut down communication immediately.
Look out for anyone who tries to establish a relationship quickly and makes quick pronouncements of love
Be cautious of anyone you haven’t met who claims they love you, you’re soulmates, you’re meant to be together, or that your romance was destiny or fate. If you haven’t met the person yet they could be pretending to be anybody. This is especially important to remember if you’re communicating with a stranger living overseas who tells you they’re in love with you but needs you to send money to fund their visit to meet you.
Scammers ask you to pay by wiring money with gift cards or other reloadable cards because they can get cash quickly and continue to remain anonymous. They also know these types of transactions are almost impossible to reverse. Regardless of how much you think you’ve fallen for someone or believe they’re a reputable person never transfer or wire money to anyone on the internet.
Do your homework
Most people have some sort of trail on the internet to verify who they are. Use Google to search for additional information on new individuals you talk to. Reverse Image Search their profile picture. Save their profile picture to your computer, go to images.google.com and click the Camera Icon to upload their picture. You’ll be able to tell if that image was stolen from another website.
But even if things appear to match up, just be aware many scammers often go to great lengths to pose as another person or create a believable online presence that backs up their phony story. You won’t really know who this person is until you meet them and establish a relationship in person.
Stay connected and talk to others
Many online scammers are looking for isolated, lonely older adults they can prey upon. Stay connected to your family and let them know if you have a new friend you’re excited about having in your life.
If anything feels off about this romantic connection consider talking to a friend, family member, or a loved one and see if they can find any information on this person. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your family, law enforcement agents are experienced with sweetheart scams. With the rise of social media and online dating they know far too well how common these scams are, especially against seniors. If the person you’re talking to online says what you are doing is a secret, walk away immediately.
If you or someone you know falls victim to a scam, report it as soon as possible to local law enforcement or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) website. — click on Scams and Rip-Offs, then select Romance Scams. Make sure to notify the website or app where you met the scammer, too.