You’ve probably heard about online dating and using a website or an app to meet people. Some online apps even cater to older adults, serving people in their fifties, sixties, and beyond. Maybe the loneliness and isolation wrought by the pandemic has even prompted you to consider trying online dating. If you have tried using a dating app or website to meet someone, you are not alone. According to AARP, one in five Americans age 50 to 64 have used a dating app or website.
While online dating can help lonely singles find romantic partners, it also comes with a downside. Romance scams have proliferated, with scammers taking advantage of online dating as a new avenue for perpetrating elder financial abuse. In 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans reported losing a record $304 million to romance scammers. This constitutes a 50% increase from 2019. This makes romance scams one of the costliest scams around. Luckily, with a little education, you can learn how to protect yourself from this scam and minimize your risk.
How do Romance Scams Work?
Romance scams work like this: You post a dating profile on a dating app or website, or even a social media website. You then match with an attractive, intelligent, and charming person. Often times this person will claim to live in a different part of the country, or in a different country entirely. This individual may say they are working in a different country as a doctor, on a military deployment, or on an oil rig. This is convenient for the individual because it will provide an excuse as to why he or she cannot meet you in person.
This individual, despite being unable to meet you in person, will seem smitten and will want to get to you know more. Oftentimes, this person will suggest that you switch to using a private channel for communications, like email or a separate chat app. Over time, you will feel yourself growing closer to this person, despite never having met them. You may try to make plans to meet in person, but there’s always something that gets in the way. Eventually, this person will ask you for money due to some emergency or other crisis, for travel costs, or maybe for medical expenses. The person will tell you to send money quickly via untraceable methods such as gift cards, wife transfer, or a prepaid debit card. This person may promise to reimburse you, but never does. They might continue to ask you to send more money and they may ask you to share your online bank account information with them.
Romance scams work in many different ways. The scenario listed above is just one way that romance scams might occur. Scammers are creative and crafty, frequently changing up their playbook to avoid detection. This means that you should be on the lookout not just for situations like that described here, for anything that seems suspicious.
Signs of a Romance Scam
The people who carry out romance scams are con artist masterminds who know how to work their way into your lives from a distance. They know how to seem caring, charming, and believable and they know how to gain your trust. Luckily, you can learn to spot romance scams and make it harder for scammers to trick you. Pay attention to the following signs of a romance scam.
Be cautious if the other person:
- Claims they are in the military or they work on an oil rig or the building or construction industry and are working on projects that take them outside the US.
- Avoids meeting in person.
- Seems too good to be true.
- Professes love very quickly and showers you with attention.
- Asks you to send money.
- Tries to isolate you from family or friends.
- Requests that you send inappropriate pictures or other information, including financial information. This could be used to extort you later on.
- Suggests taking your conversation off the dating app and onto a private platform, such as a messaging app.
In addition to learning how to recognize the signs of a romance scam, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself.
Tips for Protecting Yourself from Romance Scams
- Go slow and ask lots of questions.
- Don’t feel safe simply because you initiated the interaction on the app or website. A scammer can still target you, even if you initiated the conversation.
- Research the person online and see if their photo, name, or other details are being used elsewhere on the internet. You can use Google to search for a particular image.
- Never send money to someone with whom you have only communicated online, by phone, or by mail and who you have never met in person.
- Be careful about what you post on social media. Scammers can use this information to gain your trust and target you.
- Don’t reveal too much personal information in an online dating profile or to someone you’ve only communicated with online or over the phone.
- Make your social media profiles private, so only your friends and family can view your information.
- If you suspect a romance scam, stop communicating with the person immediately.
- Talk to someone you trust about your new love interest and pay attention if family or friends express concern.
- Never send money via gift cards, wire transfer, or prepaid debit cards. Once this money is gone, you cannot get it back.
- Let your bank know immediately if you shared your bank account information or if you sent money to the scammer.
Where to Report Romance Scams
If you suspect someone may be trying to scam you or if someone has already scammed you, you can report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. It is important to always report scammers, regardless of the amount of money you have lost. There may have been other victims of the same scammer, making the dollar amount lost to this scammer much higher. Reporting the scam increases the likelihood that the scammers will be caught and brought to justice.
You can also notify the app or website where you met the scammer. If you shared any personal information, check your credit report to see if your identity has been stolen. Notify your bank or other financial institution if you shared your personal financial information.
If you think something may be a scam or if you have questions, call Contra Costa Senior Legal Services at (925) 609-7900. If you are age 60 or older and live in Contra Costa County, we can help you figure out if something is a scam, advise you on how to report the scam, and advise you on how to protect yourself going forward. To learn more about romance scams, please refer to the following resources:
AARP Romance Scams: https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/romance.html?CMP=KNC-DSO-FRAUD-Ongoing-RomanceScams-3075-GOOG-ONGOING-RomanceScams-Exact-NonBrand&ds_rl=1295568&gclid=EAIaIQobChMImYWzo_TZ9AIVB2yGCh0m_ARKEAAYASAAEgLkD_D_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
FBI Romance Scams: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/romance-scams
FTC Romance Scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-you-need-know-about-romance-scams