It’s fairly well accepted that everyone fudges the truth a bit when it comes to on-line dating. Maybe you use a profile picture taken last decade, list your body type as “athletic” when “a few extra pounds” is more accurate, or claim to love literature when the last thing you read was a cereal box. But there are a lot more serious lies being told on on-line dating sites, resulting in real damage.
As the New York Times reports, swindlers are using dating sites to target women Over 50 and up, most often retired and living alone. Via email and phone calls, they woo the women, create a bond, and promise all sorts of romantic adventures once the men return from that business venture overseas. And that’s when the con kicks in: wouldn’t you know it, they got robbed at gunpoint. Or fell ill and need to pay hospital bills. Or can’t finish their work project without a loan.
It’s a classic scheme, say experts — get a victim to trust you, then create a sense of urgency.
And the women send them money. $20,000. $60,000. One woman lost $300,000, another just under that. One official pegs the typical losses at between $40,000 and $100,000.
It’s not as if the dating sites don’t try to protect their users; there are plenty of warnings saying don’t ever send money or give financial information to people you’re communicating with through the site. The website romancescams.org can help, listing red flags to watch for.
AARP has recognized the threat, and is urging the dating sites to put more safeguards in place. Additionally, it’s suggesting use of Google’s “search by image” feature to see if a suitor’s picture is on different sites under different names, and to cut-and-paste a suspicious email into Google to see any words pop up on romance scam sites.
Just as it seems inconceivable that people fall for the “Nigerian prince needs your help getting money out of the country,” it’s hard to believe these romantic cons work, too. But obviously they do, undoubtedly because people believe what they want to believe. Hopefully the more word gets around, the less successful these scams will be.