You meet a new sweetheart online through social media or on a dating website. Quickly he or she professes their love for you and prefers to communicate through email or phone calls. They’re from the U.S, but happen to be traveling, in the military or working abroad — too far away to meet in person.
Then they will ask for money – for a plane ticket to visit you, or a medical emergency, or for visas or other official documents, or to cover losses from a temporary financial setback. One request leads to another, and, in the end, your money will be gone along with that special someone you thought you knew.
Romance Scams Are Increasing
Scammers prey on women over the age of 60, who are often widowed and not digitally savvy, who want someone to care for them. These crooks are very wily but, according to the FBI, usually have a set profile — they claim they lost their spouse to some form of cancer, have or are raising their children alone, and are looking for love.
The number of victims and financial losses from online romance scams have more than tripled in the past five years. In 2016, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received close to 15,000 scams totaling more than $220 million in losses.
How to Protect Yourself
- Slow down. Don’t be pressured into decisions. If someone truly loves you, they’ll wait.
- Talk over your concerns. The most vulnerable people are those who are isolated. Ask a trusted family member or friend for their opinion on your new admirer.
- Go online and research this person. Does their name or photo pop up on other websites? Or use a commercial background checking service such as Intelius.com or Backgroundchecks.com.
- Never ever wire money, put money on (or reload) a cash gift card, or send cash to an online love. You likely won’t see it or hear from them again.
How to Report a Scam
Don’t let embarrassment or shame stop you from coming forward. Your complaint can help protect other older adults by stopping the scammers before they get someone else’s money. Make reports immediately to:
- Your bank
- The website you met through
- The Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)
- The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center unit: ic3.gov
And share this information with a friend or family member.