With Valentines Day being several days away, it is important to know about a scam that has played with the emotions of older Americans while wreaking havoc on their retirement savings.
It is called a romance scam. On many occasions, older adults have conversations with people they meet online who they believe truly care about them and then end up being caught up in a scam. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2018, 21,000 romance scams were reported, accounting for $143 million in losses.
Statistics show that this scam reports more losses than any other consumer fraud. What is truly alarming is the growth of this scam. Just a few years ago in 2015, the data showed 8,500 reported romance scams totaling $33 million in losses.
Sadly, the fraud artists seem to get more sophisticated with their schemes and scams. Now with the older population getting savvier with their use of the computer, there are more opportunities for bad actors to creep into the lives of seniors. With the romance scam, it may start with a simple fraudulent friend request on Facebook. Scam artists use clever communication tactics that help them build relationships with their potential victim.
Today, with the explosion of dating sites and social media, fraudsters are actively engaged to lure their next victim. To enhance their scam mission, they create fake profiles, photographs and use creative tactics to make themselves appear legitimate.
Seniors now more than ever are isolated and lonely, which gives fraudsters the upper hand trying to connect with victims. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors have spent a record number of hours, days, and weeks making older Americans easy targets. It is similar to fishing. A successful fisherman will drop their line where the fish are. Fraudsters know that seniors are usually home alone and have retirement savings. Since older adults are spending more time online, that is where the fraudsters are lurking.
These tips by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost should help prevent becoming a victim of the romance scam:
- Research the person you meet online and do not rely only on what they tell you. Conduct your internet searches and check with independent sources to verify the person's claims.
- Be cautious of those claiming fate brought you two together or that they claim to love you shortly after meeting online.
- Talk to friends about your online relationship even if the other person wants you to keep the relationship a secret.
- Don't send money to someone you met online, even if you have developed a trusting relationship with them.
- Be skeptical of any request to send money via wire transfer, money order, prepaid money cards, or gift cards. These are favorite avenues for scammers to steal from you.
If you think you may be a victim of a romance scam, take these steps to protect yourself:
- Cease all contact with the individual.
- Keep records of all communications.
- Report it to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at https://ic3.gov/ and local police.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357 or www.consumer.ftc.gov.
We must all work together to slow the growth of the romance scam. The only way we can make a difference is for all of us to pitch in and educate our seniors about this growing scam.