“I’d like to chat with you, if you don’t mind.”

Who talks like that! This is a typical opening line of a romance scammer. If asking to continue a conversation, most people don’t say, “If you don’t mind.”

Anyone can be the victim of a romance scam, but the criminals typically target people that may be vulnerable, such as those who have lost a loved one. The bad guys are very devious – they will read obituaries and try to develop online relationships with widows and widowers. The vehicle for this relationship is a fake profile on a social media platform.

The manipulation of the victim may occur over days, weeks or even months, but the endgame involves the victim sending money to the perp. Even if others become aware, by the time money is sent, the victim is very emotionally engaged, and it is very difficult to convince them that they are being scammed. I recently received this from a concerned friend about an ongoing scam:

“We have a friend who has been victimized by a romance scammer. We have tried everything to help her. She has already lost around $400,000 in money sent and credit cards used.  She is now being sued by three credit card companies.”

“Now, someone posing as an FTC official called her and said they would trap the scammer if she would transfer more money. They started threatening her with jail if she did not cooperate.  We have done everything we can to convince her these people are not legitimate.” 

The FBI says that 19,000 victims lost over 735 million dollars in relation to romance and related scams in 2022. And keep in mind that those figures are for reported crimes. It is very likely that the number of victims and the loss figure is much higher, as most crimes of this nature are under reported.

These scams not only break hearts but also leave victims facing financial ruin and emotional distress. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself or your loved ones:

  1. How do romance scams work? Scammers create fake online personas, often posing as potential romantic partners, and initiate contact through social media, dating websites, or email. They invest time in building trust and forming emotional connections with their targets. Once a bond is established, they concoct elaborate stories – medical emergencies, business ventures, or family crises – to request money from their victims.
  2. Signs of a romance scam:
  • Overwhelming declarations of love and affection early on.
  • Reluctance to meet in person or engage in video calls.
  • Stories that seem too perfect or too tragic to be true.
  • Frequent excuses to avoid meeting face-to-face.
  • Requests for money, gifts, or financial assistance.
  • Inconsistencies in their stories or details about their lives.
  • Suspicious or generic profiles with limited online presence.
  1. Vulnerabilities of seniors:
  • Isolation: Seniors who are socially isolated may seek companionship online, making them susceptible to emotional manipulation.
  • Limited tech-savviness: Many seniors are less familiar with the intricacies of online communication, making it easier for scammers to deceive them.
  • Trusting nature: older individuals often come from a time when people were more trusting, which scammers exploit.
  1. Prevention and protection:
  • Educate: Inform seniors about the risks of online scams and encourage them to be cautious when interacting with strangers on the internet.
  • Verify identities: Encourage them to research and cross-check information about their online connections. Use reverse image searches to see if profile pictures are stolen.
  • Set boundaries: Advise seniors not to share personal or financial information with individuals they haven’t met in person.
  • Report suspicious activity: If something doesn’t feel right, seniors should report it to the relevant authorities or the platform they’re using.
  • Support networks: Maintain open lines of communication with seniors and ensure they have a support system to discuss their online interactions.
  1. Recovering from a romance scam:
  • Cease contact: If someone suspects they’re involved in a romance scam, they should immediately cut off communication with the scammer.
  • Report the scam: Victims should report the incident to their local law enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the online platform where they encountered the scammer.
  • Seek emotional support: It’s essential for victims to talk about their experience with friends, family, or counselors to cope with the emotional aftermath.
  1. The importance of awareness:
  • Community education: Senior centers, community organizations, and family members should engage in awareness campaigns about romance scams.
  • Digital literacy: Providing seniors with basic digital literacy skills can empower them to navigate the online world more safely.

Romance scams targeting seniors have become a distressing and prevalent issue in today’s digital age. Seniors, often seeking companionship or connection online, can be particularly vulnerable to the manipulative tactics employed by scammers. By understanding the tactics employed by romance scammers and fostering awareness, we can help seniors enjoy the benefits of online interaction while avoiding the heartbreaking and costly consequences of falling victim to these scams.