Use caution: Studies suggest that lonely people are vulnerable to being scammed.
Are you lonely? Have you been looking for love online? Please use caution. Romance scammers hang out in droves on dating websites and social media.
According to a Pew Research survey, about half of Americans in their 50s and older have used an online dating platform. Of those, only 6% say they met their significant other through online dating. Almost half (more women than men) say they encountered someone who was trying to scam them. Apart from scamming, more than 4 in 10 reported at least one of the following four unwanted behaviors.
- Receiving a sexually explicit message or image they didn’t request.
- Being continuously contacted after they said they were not interested.
- Being called an offensive name.
- Being threatened with physical harm.
Red flags: how to spot a scammer
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consumer protection newsletter reports that in 2022, nearly 70,000 people fell victim to a romance scam with total losses of $1.3 billion. Any of the following strongly suggest that the person you’re communicating with is after your money, not your love.
- Too many coincidences; whatever you like, they like too.
- You want to meet in person, but they can’t because they are in the military, working on an offshore oil rig, or living in another country.
- They pressure you to make fast decisions.
- They urge you to keep your relationship a secret from friends and family.
- They ask you for money using cryptocurrency, bank wires, or gift cards.
- They say they are recently widowed.
- They ask inappropriate questions.
- They tell vague or inconsistent stories about their lives.
- They encourage you to compromise your principles or values.
- They press you for personal information: Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, home addresses, credit card numbers, mother’s maiden name, your date of birth, and so on.
Some sample requests that should alert you to a possible scam include:
- Please send money. Someone I love is sick, hurt, or in jail.
- I’m a successful investor. Let me teach you how to invest. (Often in cryptocurrency).
- I’ve bought you a gift, but you need to send money to cover the delivery fees.
- You can trust me with your intimate photos. (Scammers who convince you to share intimate photos may then threaten to share them online unless you send them money. This is called sextortion.)
Meeting in person: If you’ve gotten this far, here are some guidelines to help you stay safe.
- Meet in a public place for your first several contacts. Never agree to meet at your date’s house or an isolated place.
- Keep your personal items and your drinks in view.
- Consider avoiding alcohol and other substances that can lower your inhibitions and impair your awareness.
- Don’t be pressured into doing something that makes you uncomfortable.
- Be in charge, and have confidence in your gut instincts.
- If you’re uncomfortable, don’t worry about being polite, just leave.
- Set a start and end time to the date.
- Arrange your own transportation. Never agree to be picked up at home.
- Make sure to charge your mobile phone and pre-program emergency numbers.
- Tell at least one friend or family member about your plans and when you expect to return home. Make plans to check in with them after each of your first few dates.
Some extra steps to stay safe online
- Add security to your online accounts by turning on multifactor authentication. This will keep scammers out of your accounts even if they have your passwords and usernames.
- Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails, texts, or social media messages.
- Be aware of catfishing. Catfishing is when the scammer steals your personal information and images to create a new identity and then uses this identity to trick others into being scammed. Some catfishers create identities specifically designed to appeal to people who are lonely and looking for romance, whether online or in person.
Already scammed?: Many victims are ashamed or embarrassed to report being scammed. Please don’t be. Scammers are professionals, they can fool even the smartest, most careful people. Reporting scammers doesn’t guarantee they’ll be caught. Not reporting does guarantee they’ll continue to fleece other unsuspecting people. If you have been victimized, report the scam to your local police, ReportFraud.ftc.gov, or the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline: 1-855-303-9470. Want to learn more? Go to ftc.gov/romancescams.
A final word: Chances are that if you meet someone online who is eager to have a relationship with you, finds you special, claims to share many things in common without really knowing you, is nice looking, talented, financially well-situated, and recently single, this may feel like the answer to your prayers, but it’s probably to good to be true.
Romantic relationships take time to build. The truth is, for mature people, the days of getting swept away have been swept away. Stay tuned, please. In my next post, I’ll be talking about better, safer ways to meet people—real people.