Today, many seniors are turning to online dating or connection sites to meet other seniors. Often it’s for finding romance, but sometimes it’s just looking to connect with other seniors with similar interests. Plus, with new senior dating sites coming available, it makes it even more appealing and less intimidating for many of us to have an exclusive site for those 55+. These sites can be powerful, but it’s important to be wary of online dating scams targeting seniors.
Thankfully, there are some advantages. For one thing, online dating is not only easy and convenient, but it can also something we can do from the safety of our homes. Meeting people through internet sites or mobile apps gives many seniors a sense of security they may not feel if meeting people randomly in public.
The senior online dating community is expanding every year, and according to Match.com, those 50+ constitute the fastest-growing age group of users. And most of us who are alone, feel the importance of finding friendship if not companionship as we get older.
Online interaction puts us at a safe distance from others until we feel comfortable enough to start sharing our personal information, such as our phone number or personal email. Unfortunately, some of that sense of security that comes with online dating also gives criminals a way to hide their identity better and pull scams that they would not be able to do easily in person.
As internet dating has grown in popularity, so has the amount of money scammed from seniors. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2019, there was a reported loss of $201 million in romance scams. And of course, that’s only the amount documented by the FTC. Many victims, especially seniors, don’t report online dating scams out of fear of embarrassment.
There are four primary reasons seniors are targeted for online dating scams:
- If we have signed up for online dating, we most likely live alone and are somewhat isolated.
- As a generation, are often more trusting than younger generations when it comes to relationships.
- Many seniors have a nest egg to see them through retirement.
- Seniors are the least likely victim to report the crime.
Some of the same patterns are true for other types of scams too, such as tech support scams, gift card scams, and even COVID-19 scams.
In this article we cover:
- Three most common online dating scams and how they work
- Red flags that you’re talking with a scammer
- What you can do to protect yourself from online dating scams
- How to report online dating scams
Three Most Common Online Dating Scams
The first thing criminals do when working an online dating scam is to set up a fake profile, which is called catfishing. Many will set up multiple fake social media profiles, often on dating sites, but also other sites like Facebook. These profiles use fake photos and false personal information for fraudulent purposes.
All online dating scams start the same way with your potential romance interest, spending time getting to know you, and earning your trust. It begins as all (real or fake) online dating adventures do, so it can be challenging to spot the scam right away.
Soon the two of you are chatting multiple times day, and eventually, the two of you share your email addresses or phone numbers. Maybe the two of you have even scheduled a date, though they had to cancel last minute. Plus, by now, the scammer has created a strong bond with you and has expressed great affection.
And this is where things begin to differ depending on the scam. They all start with the above scenario but now start getting hinky.
Can you Help Me?
“Can you Help Me?” is the most common of the online dating scams. Online dating criminals work to gain your trust and affection.
Once they have reached this point, they count on the trusting nature of seniors to ask for help. Most of us would want to help out a friend or family in need if we had the means to do so, and the fraudster usually has a fair idea of how you sit financially.
Some of the time, criminals won’t even need to come out and ask you for the money, since their sob story will have you offering it to them. And after you do that, they may even put up a weak protest, but in the end, take your money, usually with a promise to pay you back.
But if you don’t offer to give them the money, they will work their way around to asking you if you would be able to provide them with a short-term loan, “just this one time.” And of course, they will reimburse you as soon as possible.
The most common stories scammers use are:
- Sick relative
- Personal medical bills
- Loss of job
- Airfare to come to visit
- Business crisis
- New business venture
- Car Repairs
Whichever, one the scammer chooses, this is usually just the start. Some of the fraudsters stop there and end all communication including disconnecting phone service, pulling their dating profile down, and canceling their email address.
However, more often, the criminal will have a string of lousy luck, requiring them to ask for more money. All the while, they will continue to maintain an online relationship with you. Eventually, it will come to an end when you either end it by refusing to give them any more money or when they feel that it is no longer safe for them to continue their scam.
A money mule is an individual that transfers money illegally acquired at the direction or request of another person. Much of the time, the person used as the mule is ignorant of any wrongdoing. Criminals use money mules to move money either electronically or physically.
The money mule scammer asks to use your bank accounts to receive then transfer it to a third party. It may seem harmless since the criminal is not asking for money from you; however, this is the farthest thing from the truth.
If you have the misfortune to be involved in a money mule scam, then at best, you will only have your accounts frozen during the investigation but, money mules can be prosecuted and held personally responsible for reimbursing the stolen money.
In addition to the legal ramifications, the criminals may also use your personal information for nefarious reasons, such as stealing your money or identity. Because of the possibility of not only losing your money but also being tied into the legal consequences, the money mule scam is one of the worst of the three.
Identity or Data Theft
The scammer will send you a link for a game, app, or service. The link may lead you to a website that downloads malware into your computer without your knowledge. The malware then gathers personal information and sends it back to the criminal.
Malware can act as a spy and stay hidden in your computer to transfer essential personal data, or it can wreak havoc on your computer, causing it to crash.
Or the link may bring you to the site asking for a credit card number to proceed, instead of using malware, they just ask you for the information. The website might be for a game or chat service; ultimately, it will be an online product or service the scammer convinces you to try.
Often the actual price to use or buy whatever the link is for is minimal since they just want your credit card information.
Red Flags You’re Talking with a Scammer
Though there are many scams, some of them have red flags that will help you to identify them. Here are a few things to watch for when using online dating sites:
- The person you are talking to has an almost instant infatuation or attraction, claiming strong feelings early on in your communication.
- The photo on their dating profile is very attractive and appears to be professionally done. It might also look like a photo from a magazine, instead of an everyday picture. They might also appear quite a bit younger.
- They refuse to talk on the phone or video chat.
- The person wants to take the conversation off the dating website shortly after your initial contact.
- They will excessively shower you with attention and compliments, filling your inbox and contacting you multiple times a day.
- They claim to want to meet but never do, and they will habitually cancel plans last minute.
- They say they travel out of the country regularly.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself From Online Dating Scams
The best way to protect yourself are to watch for red flags, but also:
- Never give anyone you met online money, and end or minimize contact with them immediately. If you say no, some will become angry or try and guilt or cajole you into caving in, which is another sign this is a scam, criminals know how to pull at your heartstrings.
- Never allow others to use your bank accounts to transfer or “hold onto” money.
- Never click on links from people you recently met online.
- Use a reverse image search online, like the one free by Google; this will let you see if the photo is used on other profiles under different names.
- Go to Google Image
- Click on the camera icon
- Click on upload an image
- If they send overly affectionate emails or messages copy and paste them into a search engine, it will show you if they were used in other dating scams.
- Don’t be fooled if you were the first to make the first move, scammers are patient and will wait for people to come to them.
- Don’t give too much personal information on your profile.
How to Report Online Dating Scams
Many of us believe ourselves to be good judges of character and too smart to have the wool pulled over our eyes. However, these criminals know exactly how to sweet talk seniors out of their money. If they weren’t so good they wouldn’t have stolen $201 million last year in dating scams.
So, if you think the person you are chatting with is a scam artist, first end all communication with them. Next, if you gave the person money, contact your bank or credit card company and cancel the payment. Finally, report any suspected activity to the FTC.
Helen Bow says
Looking for a media contact. I have a survey about senior romance scams to share for consideration.