Love is an essential need for all human beings. For older adults – and particularly those who have lost a spouse or partner – love is a void that can leave people vulnerable to fulfill. Unfortunately, romance scams – also commonly referred to as “sweetheart” scams – often target older Americans.
In doing so, con artists will employ numerous tactics to take advantage of people – especially through dating apps and social media websites. As a result, victims typically suffer from both financial and emotional damage.
Scammers will generally start by tugging at their victims’ heartstrings and building trust, which makes it easier to bilk them out of money – in some cases as much as five and six figures. So, if you or someone you care about has become “suddenly single,” it is essential to put some measures of protection in place because a lot could be on the line.
While there are many types of romance scams, the most common of these involve an individual using a fake profile on dating or social media websites to engage victims romantically (through flattery) and eventually start asking for money.
A decrease in contact from friends and family makes it easier for seniors to fall victim to romance scams – including seemingly “small” ones that can quickly turn into significant financial losses.
According to the National Council on Aging, adults age 70 and over who were victims of these scams in 2020 lost an average of nearly $9,500 each. Although, individuals who are between the ages of 40 and 69 are also highly sought after as victims of romance scams, too.
Romance scammers tend to target older adults to take advantage of their polite and trusting nature. In addition, seniors and older adults often have a more stable financial situation, as compared to younger individuals. Engaging with a wealthy senior can be like hitting the jackpot for a scam artist.
Once the scammer starts communicating with their victim, things tend to escalate and turn personal fairly quickly. Typically, the scammer will shower the victim with compliments and will often communicate with them several times a day via text, email, phone or online chat.
Then, once the scammer knows that the victim has fallen for them, it is easy to ask for money, as well as gift cards and other forms of financial assistance. Unfortunately, the victim is usually so “smitten” with the con artist that they have no idea they are being swindled.
Common red flags, or signs, that you or a loved one is being targeted in a romance scam can include the scammer:
In addition to taking an emotional toll on the victims, romance scams are also among the frauds that can cause the highest losses for seniors. It can also be more difficult for law enforcement to find the perpetrator(s), particularly as many of the scammers are contacting their victims from outside of the United States.
According to the U.S. Secret Service, criminals do extensive research on their potential victims, including:
Scammers are experts at manipulating people, and they will often use social media and other online posts against the victim. When the victim feels like they have a real connection with the other individual, they become more deeply invested in the relationship.
Unfortunately, while the internet can provide a great deal of convenience when it comes to shopping or finding information, it can also offer anonymity for criminals, which allows them unlimited time to “troll” for possible victims and hope someone will take the bait.
Romance scams involving seniors surged during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Losses reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alone rose from $84 million in 2019, to roughly $139 million in 2021.
The isolation and loneliness due to the stay-at-home orders made seniors even more vulnerable because they were longing for human contact. So, friendly emails, social media messages and phone calls were hard to pass up. Many of the scammers also used the pandemic and quarantine requirements to explain their requests for money, as well as their inability to meet the victims in person.
Some romance scammers don’t stop by just asking for money from their victims, though. For instance, some of these con artists will even turn their victims into unwitting criminals themselves by convincing them to launder money and move fraudulent funds – and in doing so, the victim could be legally liable for these actions.
In many cases, the victims of romance scams are reluctant to report the crime. This can be due to the embarrassment and humiliation that they were duped – and that they became emotionally and financially invested in the false relationship.
In addition to romance scams, there are other common avenues for fraud to take place – and it can happen to people of all ages. These can include the following:
In a government imposter scam, the fraudster will pretend to be a representative of a federal agency, such as the IRS or the Social Security Administration. The scammer will usually demand that the victim pay “taxes that are due,” or threaten to stop their retirement income benefits.
Some of the most common red flags in a government imposter scam can include a government agency” calling to verify the victim’s address or Social Security number and/or being pressured to make an important decision quickly.
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S., and around the world. The Federal Trade Commission received 5.88 million fraud complaints in 2021. It is estimated that financial losses from this type of fraud alone reached more than $6 billion.
There are numerous forms that identity theft can take, such as:
It can take a long time to recover from identity theft – and many victims do not ever regain all of the money that they lost – nor their peace of mind.
If you or a loved one believe that you’ve fallen victim to identity theft, there are several ways to check. These methods include:
Shopping scams – particularly those that involve shopping online – are also on the rise. For instance, in 2021, these scams led to approximately $393 million in reported losses. An online shopping scam can occur in several forms – and both buyers and sellers can be at risk. Some of the most common forms of shopping scams include:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) receives millions of complaints every year regarding unwanted and bothersome phone calls. Today, calls can be made by humans or computers. For example, “robocalls” can be made from anywhere in the world, and they often contain a message that was created via a pre-recorded or robotic voice.
The goal of unsolicited phone calls – both human and robotic – is usually to obtain the victim’s personal information, such as their Social Security number, bank account numbers or driver’s license number.
To remain untraceable, fraudsters will often “disguise” their phone number so that it shows up as a “local” call to the victim. This, in turn, can increase the likelihood of the call recipient answering the phone.
Scammers will also try to impersonate Medicare or a victim’s health insurance company to “verify” personal information on a claim and/or to offer them “additional coverage or benefits.” With regard to seniors, the frequency of these calls will usually increase during Medicare’s open enrollment period, which runs from October to December each year.
Some of the common tactics used in health care and health insurance scams include the caller:
A sweepstakes or lottery scam is designed to make the victim believe that they have won some type of prize. However, before they can claim their winnings, the scammer tells them that they must first pay taxes or some other type of processing fee. Often, the fee or tax must either be wired or sent via cash or gift card, which can make it more difficult to trace and recover.
Oftentimes, the scammer will tell the victim not to let their family or friends know about these “winnings.” This part of the scam is meant to keep the victim from realizing that they really didn’t win anything at all – and that they are about to part with some of their own money!
Another telltale sign that the call or email is likely from a scammer is if you (or your loved one) did not participate in any type of contest, lottery or drawing for a gift. In addition, if you receive an email with a link, do not click on it. Otherwise, you could run the risk of being hacked – which is yet another way for scammers to wreak havoc on your finances and your life.
Some scammers even play off of the likelihood of victims being hacked. For instance, some computer-based frauds involve con artists pretending to be associated with a well-known technology company, such as Apple or Microsoft, and (falsely) claiming that your computer has been “infected” with a virus.
To help fix the issue, the scammer will ask for a credit card or checking account number so that they can “bill” for their repair services. Because older adults are typically less tech-savvy than younger individuals, they are more apt to become victims of tech support and computer-related scams.
It is important not to call a phone number or go to a website that is given to you (or your loved one) by a scammer because these are also part of the overall scheme. Rather, you should directly contact a legitimate repair or tech company.
Yet another common fraud against seniors and people of all ages is financial services impersonation – which also includes debt and mortgage fraud, where scammers pretend to be debt collectors and coerce victims into paying a debt that does not actually exist.
Oftentimes, the scammers will use strong-arm tactics – even telling the victim(s) that they could go to jail if they do not pay the debt(s). Before offering a caller any form of payment, it is essential to first directly verify with a creditor to determine if a debt balance actually exists.
The person in need and grandparent scams have also grown in popularity over the years. These involve a scammer calling, emailing or using some other form of contact and stating that they are detained in a foreign country or in some other type of trouble. In some cases, the caller will tell the victim that their grandchild asked them to call because they need help.
The fraudster will go on to tell the victim that they need money to get back home or to post bail and get out of jail – and they will usually need these funds immediately. In other cases, the scammer will impersonate a law enforcement officer – even though they will provide the victim with very little information about the situation.
While there is no guarantee that you can completely shield yourself or someone else from becoming the victim of a romance scam, there are ways to recognize the red flags so that the odds of success for the scammers are reduced.
Some of the best ways to do so include the following:
If you or a loved one has already become the victim of a romance scam, there are some things you can do to help lessen the impact of the situation, such as:
It is important to make these contacts as soon as possible. In addition, having a checklist available for reference can help you to ensure that you cover all of the necessary information in a complaint or report that you file.
Romance and other scams targeted at seniors are growing rapidly – and criminals are constantly changing their tactics to lure unwary victims. So, it is important to take precautions and keep your assets – and emotions – safe.
One way to do that, as well as to grow your portfolio and generate ongoing retirement income, is to work with a financial professional who is also aware of potential financial-related scams. For more information about planning your financial future, contact us today.
Alliance America is an insurance and financial services company dedicated to the art of personal financial planning. Our financial professionals can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and achieving your future goals. We have access to an array of products and services, all focused on helping you enjoy the retirement lifestyle you want and deserve. You can request a no-cost, no-obligation consultation by calling (833) 219-6884 today.