Seniors spend a lot of time on the computer and don’t always know how to stay safe. Shockingly, romance scams account for the highest number of internet-facilitated crimes and are on the rise. Every year more seniors become victims of “sweetheart scams”. Dating websites and social media are primary sites used, where thousands of victims get taken. The potential “date” could end up being a crime syndicate in Nigeria.
Seniors are very vulnerable to romance scams. The FBI and Federal Trade Commission logged 15,000 romance-scam complaints in 2016 in which victims were defrauded of about $230 million. Only 15% of fraud victims report the crime, so the extent of confidence fraud is likely even higher. The most vulnerable are seniors living in nursing homes or apartments on their own. They are the primary targets for romance scammers, because they don’t get out much and generally have a more trusting attitude. These schemes are also known Confidence fraud, wherein scammers prey on people of both genders, young or old, to defraud them of money and often life savings. It happens year around, however, it is particularly prevalent around Valentine’s Day.
Scammers defraud trusting types in a host of ways, including bilking men with “mail-order brides”. Other con artists may lure victims into videotaping themselves nude on Skype, then blackmail them by threatening to post the tapes on Facebook. Targeting these victims is done by getting lists of people in nursing homes. They, also, have ways to get the names of financial advisors’ clientele. They check obituaries in the newspaper to find widowers, and then reach out to them. The level of sophistication can get very complex. Widowers are a target for “Mail order” brides, who are being trafficked out of former Soviet countries, like Romania, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, and sent here. Some people have paid $25,000 to $50,000 for a bride. The girl shows up, the guy pays the money. They go through a marriage ceremony and start living together. Then the girl runs off with whoever brought her over here, and the guy is out the money. Romance scams are not gender specific. There are a lot of scammers behind keyboards posing as young women going after older men. Rarely is the scammer the person they’re purporting to be. They create a synthetic, or fake, identity.
Anytime someone wants to make a major life event change, which was created by an online relationship, it should be questioned. Non-reputable sites have many more scammers, but even with a site that is reputable, you still must be very careful. The most important way to protect yourself is not to post personal identity information. Never give a credit card or bank account number to a stranger. If you are using a dating site, then always get validation that it’s a real person you are connecting with. Someone might be on Facebook; but if they don’t show up anywhere else in an online search, it may be a huge indicator of a false identity. If anybody asks for money, hold onto your checkbook, because real romance doesn’t rely on a checkbook. If you’re looking for love, make it long-term and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Make sure you can verify the person through a third party.
If you are scammed, you should avoid trying to go after them personally. They may be a part of organized crime. Instead, file reports with the Federal Trade Commission and your local police. If it’s proven to be a case beyond state bounds, the FBI will get involved. You can also contact your state attorney general. If you have suffered identity theft, Credit companies will give you free assistance and bring in the police.
Source: Janice Gough, Financial Advisor at Gough Financial Services Palm Springs. For more information contact Janice Gough at janice@GoughFinancialSvcs.com or by calling (760) 251-7724 or (650) 200-8291