February means Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. Or is it? Not for the seniors who fall for phony romance scams.
Reports collected by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) from consumers and local law enforcement show online romance fraud is increasing sharply. In 2015, the agency received 8,500 such complaints. In 2019, the number topped 25,000.
Romance scams escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Romance scams escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the last three years people have reported losing more money to romance scams than any other type of fraud, with seniors being hit hardest and losing the most. The pandemic was the perfect environment for scammers—thousands of vulnerable lonely people over 65 in lockdown spending all their time on social media. According to a story in USA Today. “Those 70 and older reported the highest losses–the median loss was $9,475.”
Wait, there’s more
The reported fraud cases are probably only the tip of the iceberg. People are so embarrassed to report that they’ve been conned, especially by a romance scam, that they keep it to themselves. Scammers are everywhere—dating sites, Facebook, Instagram.
Why do they get away with it? People are naturally trusting according to Patti Poss, a senior attorney in the FTC’s consumer protection bureau. She told USA Today, “Scammers are very sophisticated. And no one should be embarrassed that this happened. They know what they’re doing, to be able to tell these stories, develop a relationship and get people’s money.
“You may not think you’re sending something to a stranger because it is somebody that you think you know at that point.”
Spotting a Scammer
- Be suspicious. If someone looks too good—or too young– to be true, they probably are. Beware good looking men or women who friend you on Facebook, but have no mutual friends and nothing in their profiles but attractive photos. Women get pictures of men in uniform or in doctor’s scrubs. Men get pictures of sexy young women. Here’s how to spot a phony Facebook profile.
- Beware a romantic approach from someone out of the country. To avoid meeting in person, scammers say things like they’re in the military, or working on an oil rig, or doing humanitarian work overseas. Then they call or text a few times a day to get you to depend on their flattery and lies. Remember, they’ve already learned a lot about you from social media so know what to talk about to reel you in. They may make a date to meet if you insist, but they always have a reason not to show up.
- Beware money requests. At some point the romance scammer will ask for cash—either in form of a bank transfer or gift card or possibly cryptocurrency. (Here’s an article from AARP about how they do it.) Their story will be very convincing. They’re stuck at an airport trying to buy a ticket to meet you, or have been in an accident and need to pay for medical care. They may ask you to buy cryptocurrency–which may be part of a money laundering scheme. Again, never give money—or financial information– to someone you haven’t met in person and don’t know well. Read this blog post and especially the comments, for stories of real people who got scammed.
- Research the person. Google their name. Use Google image search for their picture. Check out the tips in this article on how to spot an online dating scam.
- Confide in a friend, a family member, or a therapist. If you’re feeling swept away, do a reality check by telling someone else what’s going on. Scammers prey on your emotional vulnerabilities. This article explains the psychology of why people fall for romance scams.
Don’t stop looking for love online
The fact that there are scammers out there doesn’t mean you should give up on online dating. Many older people do find love online on the same sites where scammers lurk. If you join a dating site and follow a few simple safety tips, you might actually find a compatible mate or at least a friend:
- Start by only meeting potential matches in person, preferably people who live in your area.
- If you have any reservations or doubts, check the person out on Google so you know they are who they say they are.
- Then get to know them before exchanging intimate details about your life, including (especially) financial information.
How about you? Have you tried online dating? How did it turn out? Let us know in the comments!