In last month’s post on technology scams, we reviewed robocalls and tips to avoid getting duped by this rampant problem. In our follow-up posting we look at another scam to watch out for: Sweetheart Scams.
Research tells us that isolation is “the new cigarettes” because of its impact on the health of our loved ones. This isolation is especially seen in widows/widowers over age 50. People age at different rates, and after losing a beloved spouse or lifelong friend, there can be a strong desire, even desperation, to find that kind of companion relationship again. Technology can help create or find new relationships.
According to Pew Research, 46% of people over the age of 65 use Facebook. Additionally, dating sites like Our Time, Senior People Meet, and Silver Singles are popular places for seniors to meet new people as they search for companionship. Unfortunately, some bad folks use the internet to prey on vulnerable people. One popular scam is referred to as the Sweetheart Scam.
A scammer will set up a fake profile on a site and begin interacting with legitimate individuals, often multiple targets at once. Usually the fake person is based overseas. Like “catfish” scams, the scammer will start to foster a virtual friendship, working to develop deep, emotional feelings for this “person.”
Where this turns criminal is when it’s time for this “person” and the real individual to finally meet. The scammer will usually come up with a legitimate sounding financial excuse as to why they are delayed or are not allowed to leave the country they are in. The victim is so focused on finally meeting this “person” that they are more than willing to send money to help. When it gets to this point, it’s usually very difficult to convince a victim that this is not a real person and that this person is trying to take advantage of them.
While this is scam is more prevalent with those over age 50, it can happen to any vulnerable person. So, we suggest being engaged with friends and families, asking questions about their new relationship. Be wary if the online relationship progresses to asking for money, especially early on.
Also, you may want to listen to this short audio from the FBI with your family so they can know what to look out for should they come across a suspicious profile: https://www.fbi.gov/audio-repository/news-podcasts-inside-sweetheart-scams.mp3/view