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Anatomy of a Scam: Romance

Posted on Wednesday, July 10, 2024
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by Outside Contributor
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Finding romance can be intimidating at any age, especially true after a marriage or long-term relationship. Loss of a spouse or partner leaves many hoping for a chance at love once again. But looking for love in the wrong places, can make you vulnerable to scammers.

Traditional avenues for finding love have given way to online searches. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey, “Three in 10 adults have used an online dating site or app, and one-in-six Americans aged 50 and older (17%) say they have used a dating site app.” [1]

Many elderly people also spend time on social media sites, such as Facebook. They use such sites for entertainment and to keep in contact with family and friends. Scammers also use these forums to pose as potential friends or possible love interests. Social media is a prime hunting ground for scammers. Imposters often create fake social media accounts to deceive and defraud innocent victims.

Scammers learn about their potential victims through the personal information shared online. This makes it easier for the con person to pretend to share similar interests and win their target’s trust. How these scenarios can, and do, unfold is illustrated in the following tale. Though this story is fictional, the circumstances are all too real.

Anything for Love

Linda, a widow who lives alone, enjoys using social media to stay in touch with friends and family and post updates about her life. One day, Linda receives a “friend” request from a man named Tim. He claims to work as a military contractor overseas and they seem to have the same interests. He messages her many times every day, giving her plenty of attention. He asks how her day is going or lets her know he is thinking about her. A romantic, online relationship develops. Tim expresses his feelings for Linda within a week of connecting only online.

Soon, Tim begins to share stories with Linda about his financial and legal issues. Tim asks for Linda’s help. She is happy to do whatever she can. By the time Tim vanishes from her online life, as quickly as he appears, Linda is out of $60,000 USD.

The romance con-person tends to show up “out of nowhere”, comes on strong, and once they get what they want, they disappear.

In 2023, an estimated 64,000 people reported a romance scam, according to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Data Book, with reported losses totaling $1.14 billion. The median reported loss averaged $2,000. [2]

Protect Yourself and Loved Ones

Social media offers conveniences, like making it easier to keep in touch with family and friends. It also offers anonymity, making it easier to venture out and even back into the dating scene. Unfortunately, it’s the convenience and anonymity that makes it appealing to scammers. While scammers use dating apps to target people looking for love, the romance scams, which begin on social media, are more common. In fact, according to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, “Forty percent of people who said they lost money to a romance scam last year said the contact started on social media.”[3]

How can unsuspecting older adults protect themselves? Awareness of the methods scammers use is a start. Here are some common online romance scam tactics:

Emotional manipulation. In romance, this type of manipulation comes in the form of “love bombing.” Love bombing is getting showered with excessive overtures of affection and attention, especially early on.

Too many details. Be wary of someone sharing too much personal information. When getting to know someone, you may feel the more you learn about them the better. But too many details about a person’s private life and history early on can be a warning sign. Manipulators and scammers often use this tactic to create an illusion of intimacy.

Reasons to never meet. Romance can be risky, especially when the would-be romance is a distant one. A scammer will often come up with excuses not to meet in person. Common excuses include having work commitments and health issues.

Everything is perfect. In this tactic, a new love interest, or scammer, agrees with everything you say and likes everything you like.

Quick to commit. Most people looking for serious relationships want commitment. But, when a new love interest declares that you’re soulmates and wants to settle down within a few days, weeks, or months, this can be a red flag that you are dealing with a potential scammer.

Appeals for help. Once a scammer thinks he or her has you hooked, they may attempt to make you feel financially obligated to help them.

Offering financial expertise. The flip side of the financial appeals coin is when a scammer pretends to have certain financial expertise. Claiming to have knowledge of crypto currency investing, for example, is a growing tactic for scammers to entice lovers to “invest” money that ends up in the scammer’s pockets.

Of all the tactics listed, the last two dealing with financials are often the aim of scammers to get their hands on your money. No matter how close you may feel to someone you’ve met online, never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. Making new connections, platonic or romantic, virtual or in-person, can be rewarding and sometimes an adventure. Whatever your end-goal or method, be open, yet cautious. New friends are worth the effort and so is your security.

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anna hubert
anna hubert
2 days ago

The oldest scam in town A lonely heart is an easy target for a hunter

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