Stop Senior Scams: Outsmarting sweetheart scammers
By Jeremy Rodriguez
When older adults get lonely, they may try to find love online. Dating apps and social media can be a great way to meet new people. However, you should proceed with caution and never share personal information with someone you recently met.
After communicating online for a while, you may decide to request a phone call or video chat. If you eventually decide to meet in person, you should always plan your first meeting in a public place. You may also want to bring a friend along.
Be aware that online romance is fraught with scammers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than $135 million is reportedly lost to romance scams each year. That’s nearly 40% of the $341 million lost by older adults to all types of fraud in 2021. Additionally, adults older than 60 reported losing $43 million to romance scams using bank transfers/payments as the method for sending money.
An article from the New York Times, titled “Retirees are Losing Their Life Savings to Romance Scams. Here’s What to Know,” notes that these types of scams started to rise during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when many older adults experienced feelings of isolation. According to the article, older adults are usually much more susceptible to romance scams due to the perceived notion that they have more money in savings.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) warns older adults to be on the lookout for online scammers when seeking a romantic relationship. The following are “red flags to watch out for when meeting a potential romantic partner online:
- Excessive flattery and praise early in the relationship. This is called “love bombing,” and it can be used to manipulate your emotions.
- Excuses for not being able to meet up in person or on video chat.
- Requests to move your communication method to another app or platform other than the one on which you initially met to “speak privately.”
- Online profile details don’t match the information you were told.
- Requests to send money and/or your banking information for a family emergency or other urgent need.
NCOA recommends conducting an online search of your potential romantic prospect and also conducting reverse image searches to verify the person you are communicating with online is legitimate. This can be as simple as typing in their full name, plus the word “scam” and other identifying details they shared with you. For example, some scammers may claim that they’re in the military or traveling for work.
When it comes to reporting potential romance scammers, you can file a report directly with the app or website where you met, as well as with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov or Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-372-8311) and the Federal Trade Commission (ReportFraudFTC.gov or 1-877-382-4357). You should also notify your financial institutions if your funds or bank accounts have been compromised. Finally, block the scammer and never look back.
Reports of financial elder abuse of older Philadelphians can be made 24/7 to Philadelphia Corporation for Aging at 215-765-9040.
Jeremy Rodriguez is a freelance journalist, blogger, editor and podcaster.