Avoiding Online Romance Scams

In 2024, older adults are experiencing greater loneliness and isolation at the same time online dating companies are becoming more common, accessible and accepted and focused on seniors. Sadly, It is not surprising that scammers in this arena are proliferating, too. While many dating/matching sites have helped older adults find lasting, meaningful relationships, anyone engaging in this activity must know how to protect themselves from predators.

As we have discussed in previous articles, scammers are most successful when they prey on high emotions. What could be more emotional than believing that you have found love?
How a romance scam works?

How to Detect an Online Romance Scam?

  1. Romance scammers move slowly, building trust by making frequent contact that is flattering, often beyond credibility. You are eager to see them, but when you seek to actually meet in person, they always have an excuse about why they cannot make it.  Examples include working or living too far away, (though pretending to be returning soon), being called away to an emergency to help family or friends, having their own emergency medical problem, or another similar reason that causes you to sympathize with their hardship.
  2. Preying on that sympathy, they may now ask you for help with funds to pay for items such as a plane ticket, medical bills, car repairs, or even fines.
  3. They instruct you to pay using prepaid gift cards or cryptocurrency. Common gift cards they request are from Google Play or Amazon. With these forms of payment there is no recourse of going back to your bank to cancel the payments. They might ask you to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram.  With gift cards they might ask for the numbers off the back of the card and ask for your PIN numbers. Never give these out.
  4. When you try to learn more about this person on Google or another search site, there is nothing that matches up. Even on the dating site, photos and profiles appear unrealistically handsome or beautiful, younger and more upscale than you would expect.

How serious is Romance Scamming?

The Federal Trade Commission collects annual data on reports of scams.  Their website notes, “People reported a record $547 million in losses to romance scams in 2021. That’s up about 80% from the reports the FTC got in 2020. In 2021, people reported paying romance scammers more with gift cards than with any other payment method. The 2021 reports also showed that cryptocurrency payments were the most costly.” https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-know-about-romance-scams#whatis

Older adults have the greatest financial losses, averaging over $9,000 per person per year.  That is only what is reported.  Many people are too embarrassed and stricken to report the losses once the scam is revealed.

How can you Protect Yourself from a Romance Scam while still seeking a Relationship?

  1. Be very careful when something is too good to be true. If you feel suspicious, investigate.  Seek a friend or family member’s opinion and believe them.
  2. Cut off anyone who fails to meet you in person in a public place despite offering excuses you would like to believe. Some of the most expensive scams are from people who pretend to be in the military, work for an organization or company that is overseas, or is “stuck” out of the country.
  3. Never send money or any financial information through any mechanism – your bank, cash, gift cards, cryptocurrency, Venmo, Zelle or other payment type – to any person you have not met locally. Even then, be very wary.  Romance does not make you the person who has to “save” another. Guard your financial assets and data.
  4. Only reveal intimate details about yourself after having met and developed a longer term relationship. Your personal identity should remain with you.
  5. Use dating apps to make initial contact but hopefully that will be with someone who is relatively local and can meet you and your friends and family. Always take it slow and be guarded about the financial commitments you are tempted to make.

For additional information about detecting and protecting yourself from Romance scams

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