There is no longer any stigma attached to meeting YOUR mate online. Millions of Americans turn to dating sites which in turn has led to many successful relationships. Though online or mobile dating is used mostly by the twenty- and thirty-something crowd (one-in-five adults ages 25 -34, according to the Pew Research Center), it is also becoming increasingly popular for the over 50 set. Unfortunately, there isn’t always a storybook ending. In the second half of 2014 alone, it is estimated that ONLINE DATING scammers robbed Americans of $82 million, according to the FBI. Though anyone could be a victim, often it is seniors who are targeted by online dating romance scams.
Here’s how the story typically goes, according to romancescams.org, a site that offers support, education and healing for those who have been affected by romance scams. A scammer, often with a glamour shot photo on their profile, will contact you. They claim to be from the United States but say they are working overseas. They ask a lot of questions about you. Essentially they are getting an idea of exactly what you are looking for so they can mold themselves into your ideal mate. Right away they will encourage you to take your conversation off the dating site and start communicating via email or instant messenger. They will quickly profess feelings of love for you, use pet names and talk about their quest for a soul mate. They may even send you flowers, a teddy bear or other gifts in the mail. They will talk about meeting face-to-face but there will always be a reason it doesn’t work out. Common excuses for the delayed meeting is a personal tragedy like a child falling ill or that they were stopped at the airport for not having the right documentation.
By this point, they’ve hooked you in and they start asking for money – the biggest red flag of all. There really is no good reason to SEND MONEY to someone you’ve never met! Often they will try to appeal to your sympathies. It could be a hospital bill for a relative, a medical emergency, some sort of crime victimization or financial setback. They may say they need the money to overcome some sort of obstacle that’s preventing them from an in-person meeting like hotel bills or visas and other official documents necessary to travel. Their hope is that by now, you are so emotionally invested in them, you won’t think twice about wiring them the money. The requests for money and the failed attempts to visit will keep coming. In the case of older Americans it could go on and on until their bank account, pensions and retirement funds are drained.
Though asking for money is the ultimate red flag, there are often a lot of signs along the way. If you are unsure, do your own vetting. Search their name online. Look for other personal profiles on social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. Look at their list of friends. Are there a lot of acquaintances from the areas they claim to have ties to or is their friend list a random assortment of global connections? Are their pictures of them with friends and family or is it all those glamour headshots? Have they been tagged in photos? Are there comments from other people? You can also conduct a search with the photo they sent. If it leads to profiles of people with different names or a modeling WEBSITES then there’s a good chance you’ve been scammed.
Ask if you can have a live VIDEO CHAT using a service like Skype or Facetime. If they are reluctant to video chat, you can also ask them to send a photo holding a paper with a certain phrase or item that would verify the photo had been taken recently. (Something that they couldn’t pull of someone’s profile). Ask them questions. Often scammers will try to avoid answering personal questions and try to constantly direct the conversation to be about you. When they start answering a lot of questions they’re more like to slip up and get caught in a lie. Ask them specifics about their hometown or job and verify the information. Look for inconsistencies, misspellings or a tendency to avoid direct answers.
If you have been victim of a scam, there’s a good chance you’ll never get that money back. But you can cut the damage of by ceasing contact with the scammer and reporting it to the WEBSITE you met the person on, the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and YOUR state’s Attorney General.
When looking for love we often hear what we want to hear. So, until you really know someone make sure you listen with your common sense and not your heart.