Many adults seek companionship and romance through an array of online dating sites. Online daters need only create a quick profile and the dating website plays the role of matchmaker, sorting through millions of other profiles to find Mr. or Ms. Right. While many clients are honest and forthright, online dating sites are also rife with fraudsters looking for individuals to manipulate with false promises. If this sounds like an unlikely ploy, consider this: According to the FBI, Americans lost $82 million to online dating fraud in the second half of 2014 alone.
Of note is the fact that online dating sites that are faith-based are often a favorite target for scammers. Judy Shaw, administrator for the Maine Office of Securities, explains: “Try as they may, online dating sites do not succeed in keeping scammers from posing as legitimate people looking for love. When the dating site is faith-based, that adds the ability to use mutual love for God as an additional connection to tug at the emotional heartstrings. People, often women, have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on these sites.”
This is what is called “affinity fraud”—we trust people whom we can relate to and who we believe share the same morals and beliefs as we do.
AARP Maine is working with agencies and law enforcement in the state to crack down on scammers. More broadly, the AARP Fraud Watch Network, a national initiative, is taking a proactive stance, urging dating websites themselves to take common sense steps to fight back against criminals who are stealing hearts and bank accounts.
As part of our work on this particular scam, we offer a few tips to help you spot a romance con artist.
Watch out if you “meet” someone who:
- Wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or instant messaging to communicate with you
- Makes several spelling and grammar mistakes when communicating
- Sends a personal photo that looks like something from a glamour magazine
- Professes love too quickly
- Claims to be from the U.S., but is traveling or working overseas
- Makes excuses about not being able to speak by phone
- Plans to visit, but cancels at the last minute because of a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour
- Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback)
- Requests you to wire money or to cash a check or money order and send money back or to a third person; and
- Makes several, ongoing requests for more money.
For more scam awareness tips, visit www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. If you suspect a scam, please contact local law enforcement or the AARP Fraud Watch Network hotline: 1-877-908-3360.
It is prudent to remember that although we all want to make that special connection and find fulfillment with another person, when online interaction is involved, particular care must be taken. Remember it is far better to be momentarily lovelorn than permanently fleeced. Keep your warm heart safe with a cool head when seeking connections online.
Jane Margesson is the communications director for AARP Maine.