Con artists are scamming elderly American women out of big bucks—sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars—by wooing them on dating websites and suddenly asking for money, the New York Times reports. “I blame myself,” says a Georgia woman who gave a swindler nearly $300,000. “I felt like jumping off a cliff.” Typically, these swindlers hack into unused dating profiles, target older, retired women who live alone, and contact them via phone and email; many say they are working abroad as a builder or contractor. They develop a powerful bond with the victim, then urgently request money for any of various problems including unpaid wages, robbery, or surprise fines.
The AARP is urging dating websites to implement safeguards, like finding fake profiles, spotting odd language patterns, and contacting people in touch with fraudulent suitors; some sites have partly complied or listed dating safety tips, the Chicago Tribune reports. Among the best tips: Beware of people who say the romance is fate or destiny, or claim the victim’s love is fake if they won’t send money. Caution is key, considering that 6,000 people complained of confidence frauds totaling $82.3 million in the second half of last year, the Internet Crime Complaint Center reports. “Romance scams have been around for hundreds of years but [with] the Internet … it’s so much easier to fake one’s identity,” says an AARP official.