Romance scams, also known as online dating scams, are online scams in which a scammer builds a romantic relationship with their victim. The scammer will create a fake profile either on a social media site, dating site, or other open forum site to attract others. Through flattery, emotional conversations and intimacy, the scammer attempts to build a romantic relationship. Once the victim is falling for the fake profile, the scammer will use a variety of excuses to request money and take advantage of the individual.
While anyone can fall victim to a romance scam, older adults are more significantly impacted financially. According to the National Council on Aging, older adults, aged 70+ lost on average $9,475 on romance scams, almost double the amount of a younger adult. In total, in 2021, older adults reported financial losses totaling $139 million dollars, according to Forbes. This number grew dramatically during the COVID-19 Pandemic from $84 million in 2019.
This monetary loss can be even more impactful for an older person, as they may be faced with limited income or concerns about paying for care in the near future.
With older populations being more familiar with computers and social media sites, the risk of falling for an online romance scam is growing. Understanding the red flags of romance scams and developing a plan to protect your loved one can help avoid falling victim to a scam.
Romance scammers may request money in the form of cash, money orders or gift cards. They prey on their victim’s emotional connection with them to exploit information or money. They may request personal information including:
Romance scams can be hard to detect, and scammers are getting better at masking themselves. The first step to protecting yourself and your loved one’s is being able to identify the signs of a scam. Warning signs that an online relationship is not what it seems can be found both by looking at the profile, as well as the way the person acts.
When the scammer requests money or other vulnerable information, they usually give a reason to the victim that may appeal to their emotions and love for the person they believe they are in the relationship with. A common excuse reported to the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov), common excuses include that the scammer is on an oil rig, paying off debts, or paying for customs fees. They may also say they have a family emergency. They will rely on their victim’s love for them to get what they want.
If everything seems to check out on your loved one’s suitor’s profile, below are additional tips to protect your loved one in their online relationship to avoid being taken advantage of:
1. Be Mindful of Your Own Profile: Be cautious of what information your loved one is putting online as well. Be on the look out for personal information of themselves or other family members- especially children.
2. Research Potential New Online Partners: In the event your loved one does disclose a new love interest online to you, do some research.
3. Request to Virtually Meet: Have your loved one video chat with their new partner, and participate if possible. This can help to confirm that the person is who they are in their profile picture. People who use photos of another person on their dating profile are considered to be “catfishing” a term coined in 2010.
4. Help Monitor Online Safety: Consider blocking websites that have high activity of romance scammers (such as online dating sites). Talk to your loved one about sharing their password, just with you, in order to allow you to have access to their computer, in the event of an emergency.
5. Monitor Bank Accounts: If you have access to your family member’s bank accounts, regularly assess the bank accounts for strange or unusual activity.
The most important thing is paying attention to your loved one’s emotional needs. People are more apt to fall victim to a romance scam when they are lacking emotional connections in their real life. For an older adult, they may have lost a life-long partner and are looking for love to fill that role. For others, they may be lonely or bored and find solace and enjoyment in making connections.
Consider what your loved one’s previous relationships have been like, do they value engaging activities? Words of validation? Physical affection? While a friendship or child/parent relationship is of course different than a romantic relationship, identifying your loved one’s emotional needs can help you to reduce their risk of seeking this on the internet.
Online dating scams do unfortunately happen. If it happens to your loved one, the first step is to be mindful of your loved one’s emotional response. For those who have been victimized by a romance scammer, they may feel a variety of emotions. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed which may lead to self-isolation. If your loved one has been victim to a romance scam, be mindful of their emotional experience.
Online romance scams are illegal. After stopping all communication with the scammer, and take time away from your online dating site to eliminate the chance of the scammer recontacting you under a different profile.
Connect with law enforcement to alert them of the scam. The FBI has an Internet Crime Complaint Center. This can be found at https://www.ic3.gov/.
A Certified Dementia Practitioner and expert in Gerontology with over a decade of experience in elder care, including home care and senior living.
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