Evelyn is in her early 60s. She was divorced a few years ago, and thought it was time to try dating again. She signed up for an online dating service that markets specifically to people older than 50 and set up her profile. In the first week, she received several responses to her profile—some promising and some that she completely ignored. One, in particular, caught her eye. The gentleman was handsome, a year older than her, and listed his home in a neighboring community — close enough if a relationship were to develop.
Craig told her that he was an engineer and worked on an oil rig in the northern Atlantic. “Wow,” thought Evelyn, “what an interesting job.” As they continued chatting online, Craig told her the name of the oil rig and Evelyn decided to look it up. She was curious. Turns out, there was no oil rig in the North Atlantic by the name given, but there was a rig in the Persian Gulf with a similar name. Evelyn became suspicious and started digging a little more. She learned that an “Oil Rig Scam” is a very common form of romance scam on online dating sites. She immediately reported Craig to the online service and shut down her account.
Evelyn was fortunate that she learned about this common scam before she became emotionally or financially involved with this person. Many older adults are not so lucky.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), romance scams are the most common and most costly of scams against older Americans. In 2019, people older than 60 were scammed out of more than $83 million by romantic schemes. In 2020, with the need for social isolation due to the pandemic, the number of reported romance scams rose over 20% as many people turned to online dating sites. This does not include the unreported losses. Many victims will not report being cheated due to shame or embarrassment. Both men and women are victimized by romance scammers.
How can you tell if your new online friend is really a thief? Look for these signs:
They profess their love for you very early in the relationship.
They insist on moving the conversation from the relative anonymity of the online dating site to phone calls, emails, or text messages. If you resist this move, they get irritated.
They live or work in another country or far from you.
Their profile seems too good to be true. The profile pictures may look like professional photos.
They always have an excuse for not meeting you in person.
They write in poor English.
They ask you for money.
Most reputable dating sites have security measures built into their websites. Although it might not be as convenient to talk via the website, it’s a good idea to keep the conversation there until you get to know the person better. Even then, it’s important to proceed with caution. Many people who have been cheated believed that they knew and could trust the fraudster.
Online dating sites are not the only place that internet thieves hide in wait. Social media platforms and online gaming sites are also known to be risky. In 2019, five people were charged with scamming dozens of people out of more than $2 million. One of the online sites they used to find victims was the “Words with Friends” game platform.
If you start feeling uncomfortable about an online relationship, trust your instincts. Talk about your concerns with a trusted friend of family member. Do not allow your solitude make you susceptible to abuse.
Romance scammers are insidious. They prey on the loneliness and generosity of vulnerable people, and often get away without being caught.
If you believe you or a loved one have been the victim of a scam, contact your local police department.
Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.