ROMANCE SCAMS ALERT

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FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER

Romance Scams

By A. Santiago

More and more Americans are turning to dating websites and mobile apps in hopes of finding love and companionship. A Pew Research Center study revealed that nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults consider online dating a good way to meet people, and Match.com, one of the most popular dating sites, says people 50 and older represent its fastest-growing share of users. But seeking romantic bliss online can have a major downside: Cyberspace is full of scammers eager to take advantage of lonely hearts.

The con works something like this: You post a dating profile and up pops a promising match — good-looking, smart, funny and personable. This potential mate claims to live in another part of the country or to be abroad for business or a military deployment. But he or she seems smitten and eager to get to know you better, and suggests you move your relationship to a private channel like email or a chat app.

Over weeks or months you feel yourself growing closer. You make plans to meet in person, but for your new love something always comes up. Then you get an urgent request. There’s an emergency (a medical problem, perhaps, or a business crisis), and your online companion needs you to wire money quickly. He or she will promise to pay it back, but that will never happen. Instead, the scammer will keep asking for more until you finally realize you’ve been had.

Phony suitors also seek out targets on social media, and they are increasingly active. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 25,000 reports about romance scams in 2019, a nearly threefold increase since 2015. Victims’ losses totaled $201 million, almost 40 percent more than in 2018 and the most for any type of consumer fraud.

The older the victim, the heavier the financial toll, according to the FTC — the median individual loss for people aged 70 and over was $10,000, compared to $2,600 for all victims.

Romance scammers are smooth operators and can take their time to set their trap. Watch out for these red flags if you’re looking for love and companionship online