SUN CITY — The website SilverSingles brags about 381,000 new users signing up each month.
That’s a lot of opportunities for West Valley singles and others to meet an excellent match.
It’s also a lot of opportunities to meet a mismatch, or a date that ends in disaster.
Susie Hackett said she and her husband, Don, of Sun City West met on the dating site Match.com in 2012 and ended up getting married about three years later.
Both from northern California, they lived in separate West Valley gated communities when they met online, so it’s unlikely they would have met by chance in person.
Pros and cons
Hackett said she found some pros and cons to dating sites designed or focused on seniors, such as SilverSingles.com. Even the most heavily regulated so-called regular dating sites, such as Match.com, are where perpetrators of various scams are lurking, so it’s important to study profiles and learn as much as one can about a potential date.
“It usually takes some homework” to find a quality partner on a dating site, Hackett said.
While some seniors might not be as into paperwork as the Hacketts were, that was how they went about things in 2012.
They each reviewed possible matches online and printed out information on 25 singles in the area who might make good matches.
“Don was on the last of my 25 printouts,” Hackett said. “But I was the first one in his stack of 25.”
Hackett, who was divorced after being married for decades, said dating someone who is the complete opposite of a longtime partner shouldn’t be the sole criteria for determining a good match.
“I had been in a nine-month relationship with a man I’d met online when I realized he was just the opposite of my ex-husband,” she said. “But we were not a good match. It’s tough to throw away that invested time and energy, but you have to recognize deal-breakers for what they are.”
A few of Hackett’s friends have either not been willing to do the research and reading associated with effective online dating or fallen fast for someone, then felt they were too invested to end a relationship, she said.
“You kind of have to work at dating like it’s a business,” she said. “You should read a lot, be cautious what you reveal about yourself, and chat with someone some before meeting them in person. And even then, you should meet for just coffee the first time, and talk about each other for 45 minutes.”
More people are looking to find a significant other online. While generally it can be considered a game for younger people, more people above the age of 50 are learning to swipe left or right, according to a Pew Research Center study released in 2020.
In that report, Pew found that 19% of those age 50 to 64 had used online dating sites or apps, and 13% of those 65 and older had used them. That compares with roughly 48% of those age 18 to 20 who had used the services.
Of those who date online, overall 39% said they were in a committed relationship or married someone they met on a site or an app.
Dangers of scams
Nationally and internationally, online romance scams are still a fast-growing menace. The Federal Trade Commission says, in an online report, that over the years 2017 to 2021,
Americans reported losing a collective $1.3 billion to some type of online romance scams. This is the largest dollar figure for any FTC fraud category.
The year 2021 was an 80% increase over 2020, with reported losses hitting a record $547 million for the year. That’s more than six times the reported losses in 2017.
The median reported loss in 2021 was $2,400 per scammed American. Convincing victims to invest in bogus cryptocurrency apps accounted for losses in 2021 of $139 million — an increase of more than 25 times those reported in 2019.
Hackett said online profile honesty is a huge concern. Not only are there fake profiles meant to scam seniors out of resources — usually money — but even real-life people on dating sites misrepresent themselves, sometimes significantly.
“Don’t say you’re a really tall man if you’re 5-foot-6,” she said. “Say what you are, and what you’re really like.”
One advantage of online dating is to meet someone in a large urban area like the Valley who doesn’t have other connections, for example the person lives across the street or works for the same employer, Hackett said.
“Don’t play on your own playground,” she said. “Because if it doesn’t work out, you won’t want that person to still be in your life.”
Hackett said she and Don have a pre-nuptial agreement, though they eventually merged their finances together after about five years of marriage. That agreement was only possible because they were honest with each other initially about finances.
“If you’re unequal financially, or if one person is retired and the other isn’t really retired, you could have problems,” she said. “You’ve got to talk about those things early on. You don’t have to be in exactly the same place in life, but you should have a lot in common, especially in how to spend free time.”
Hackett said chatting online, or, sometimes, simply viewing profiles will tell singles if they have important things in common, such as religious or spiritual beliefs, are looking for the same type of relationship and have similar strong political or sociological convictions and personality types.
“I believe it’s better to find someone whose personality is like yours,” she said. “And it’s important to find out early on if your core values are the same.”
Hackett said it’s important not to get deep into a committed relationship quickly.
“Compare someone you’ve spent time with, with other profiles on a dating site,” she said.
One thing online dating reaffirmed about herself, Hackett said, was that she’s a confident person. However, online dating serves as a mirror, she said, and sometimes reveals areas of a person’s life that need work before successful dating can occur.
“If you’re not healthy, especially mentally and emotionally, or if your personal life is a mess, you’re not ready to start dating,” she said.
One issue with determining the scale of problems is that “online senior romance scam” isn’t the name of a crime or violation. Data related to senior online dating scams.
Joan Campbell is the community affairs coordinator for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. She recently makes regular presentations to local groups, includes those rife with seniors, and sometimes online safety.
“It’s hard to say how many online senior romance scam victims there are, because there are so many agencies involved and types of crimes that could be committed,” Campbell said. “Sometimes, there’s no crime to report. The only thing we know for sure is there are many more people victimized than law enforcement ever learns about.”
The Arizona Office of the Attorney General has a Consumer Information and Complaints Unit. Spokesperson Heather Moore said that unit received about 4,900 complaints in 2021 where the age of the victim was indicated as 60 or older.
Of those complaints, about 300 were recognizable as pertaining to some type of scam, such as romance utilities or lottery.
In the first six months of 2022, the unit received about four complaints, related to romance/sweetheart scams, from consumers said their age is 60 or older. Moore pointed out that complainants aren’t required to give their age.
Campbell said if a scam appears to have been initiated outside the U.S., it must be turned over to the Federal Trade Commission for investigation. The FTC reported a 400% increase in romance scams between 2019 and 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic put more people at home and working remotely, with the hardest-hit victims being Americans 70 or older.
The median loss for the 70-or-older category for that time span was $9,475.
The FBI sometimes gets involved as well, Campbell said. A 2022 FBI report shows more than 600 Arizonans fell victim in 2021 to someone online they thought they could romantically trust.
“One disadvantage some seniors have is close friends or relatives monitoring their phone calls or other communications,” Campbell said. “So there’s no one to advise them or warn them someone might be taking advantage, or asking for money in ways a romantic partner wouldn’t normally do. In-person scamming is rare now.”
Among a long list of dos and don’ts to prevent scams, Campbell said one of the biggest red flags is refusal to talk by phone or on a video chat. Some scammers get to know seniors strictly through chats and text messages, but often have excuses why they can’t meet in person or, in some cases, talk on a regular phone call.
“When they do finally ask for money, cryptocurrency is one of the latest vehicles for scams,” Campbell said. “Even though most of us might not take financial advice from someone we haven’t met, or maybe haven’t even FaceTimed or called in person, it’s happening. We’re hearing more and more stories about people convinced by a romantic partner to invest in fake crypto(currency) companies.”
Campbell said all age groups have been affected by romance scams. She said while there are still many seniors who struggle to keep up with the latest technology, apps and terminology, the age group has really caught up, on the whole.
“I am so impressed when I meet,” Campbell said. “All the time, here in the Valley, I meet seniors who show each other how to block calls, use DuckDuckGo for searches, get background information on people and more.”