The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 25,000 reports about romance scams last year alone. Data from the agency revealed that consumers reported losing $201 million to romance scams last year – up nearly 40% from the year before. Also, there has been a threefold increase in romance scams just in the last three years. Individuals currently report losing more money to romance scams than to any other fraud reported to the FTC.

According to the FTC, the older the victim, the more massive the financial toll. The median individual loss for people aged 70 and over is approximately $10,000, compared to $2,600 for all victims. We can assume that these surprising facts and figures are rather conservative as victims report feeling more embarrassed and ashamed when they have fallen for a romance scam than any other type of fraud. With that in mind, it is highly unlikely that your aging loved one will tell you that they were a victim of a romance scam, and they are certainly not likely to report it to the authorities.

The most experienced offenders manage to skillfully secure your loyalty, trust, and in the case of romance scammer’s, emotions without your ever knowing anything nefarious is happening. Fraudsters are willing to go to any and all lengths to get what they are hunting for and will stop at nothing to accomplish their goal of compromising your emotional well-being and separating you and your aging loved ones, from your hard-earned cash and personal data. The tactics used by romance scammers to fool older victims are endless; here are a few examples to look out for especially if you are active on online dating websites.

  • Fake Credentials: Dishonesty is second nature for romance scammers, and they will embellish their profiles to appeal to the most vulnerable targets. Romance scammers commonly lie about their background and professional life. They’ll often say they’re working outside of the United States to avoid lengthy phone conversations by using the time difference as an excuse or stating that they are too far away to visit. The most common bogus professional titles romance scammers use is that they have a job on an oil rig, are stationed in the military, or work as a doctor with an international organization.
  • Erratic Emotions: Fraudsters who operate in this space are found to be extremely persistent and very clever. Romance scammers will execute strategies on both ends of the continuum ranging from acting extremely devoted to instilling tremendous fear their victims’ minds. One minute they are professing their undying love, and in a sudden shift, they will threaten their target by pressuring them into handing over copious amounts of money.
  • Phony Photos: Predictably, romance scammers do not want to reveal their actual identity, so they often copy or steal a headshot image from the internet for their online profile. Luckily you can conduct an online image search of your new love interest’s photo using your favorite search engine to verify their identity.To check to see if someone is catfishing you, baiting you with a fake identity on a social networking service, you can perform what is referred to as reverse image search on Google. Be aware it gets problematic when a scammer uses software that allows them to merge several pictures into one because unless that exact image has been used before, which is highly unlikely in this case, you will not be able to find a replica of the photo online.
      • Go to the Google Images’ homepage (images.google.com).
      • Click the camera icon.
      • Go to “Upload an Image.” Alternatively, you can upload the image URL of any photo you find online.
      • Once uploaded, Google will display all of the websites that contain the referenced photo.
  • Forced Silence: Romance scammers often insist their targets keep quiet about their bogus relationship and refrain from sharing what the lovely couple has been doing. These scammers are clearly trying to prevent a family member or friend from stopping the fake scam in its tracks. Common Signs You Might be Involved in a Relationship with a Romance Scammer:
      • The individual hasn’t met you in person but is already professing their eternal love and desire to be in a long-term commitment.
      • They tell you early on, often referred to as the “honeymoon phase,” that they need money for travel, car repairs, emergencies, etc.
      • They say they’re going to come to visit you and ask you to purchase an airline ticket in their name or provide gas money but always cancel at the last minute due to some “emergency” situation.
      • The fraudster attempts to persuade you to move off the online dating website to avoid being caught participating in malicious activity.

How to Report a Romance Scam: If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Tell them you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money. If you think it’s a scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. Notify the website or app where you met the scammer, too.

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