The statistics for 2021 aren’t in yet, but it’s known that financial losses from romance scams topped $300 million in 2020, up by 50% over the preceding year. So, as we recognize Valentine’s Day and all of its wondrous thoughts of affection for loved ones, let’s keep in mind that the criminal element continuing to infect our society is hard at work preying on the most vulnerable of our citizens.
As explained by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, “romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and apps, or contact their targets through popular social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, or Google Hangouts. The scammers strike up a relationship with their targets to build their trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. Then, they make up a story and ask for money.”
Why are seniors so vulnerable to romance scams? A website dedicated to exploring this question–romancescams.org–offers some thoughts, placing “loneliness” at the top of their list of why scammers target seniors. Seniors’ trusting nature and their frequent unwillingness to report being scammed come next, followed by the simple fact that many seniors have ample funds–like retirement accounts–to make them a likely target.
So, how can you protect yourself? Romancescams.org offers some helpful advice in this regard, pointing out the obvious signs of an approaching scam and providing a series of questions that can be used to sift out a nefarious contact. Both the FTC and the FBI likewise offer, via articles on their websites, helpful information on how to spot fraudsters, how to deal with them. and equally importantly how to report them for prosecution.
It’s an unfortunate fact that all of us need to be constantly aware of the seamier side of life around us. The criminal element is like a virus that just can’t be eradicated, so our basic recourse is to vaccinate ourselves with knowledge. Knowledge of the signs and common characteristics of scam operations is the best prevention we can have, along with the courage to report these crimes as they are spotted so that others can be warned.