There are many success stories for older adults who have tried online dating. But there are also stories of those who loved and lost -- not only their hearts but their money.
The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3, logged 6,400 complaints in 2013 from Americans who lost an average $12,750 per person in online dating scams. Adults 50 and older, a group that made up half the complaints, lost an average $18,000 a person.
It's getting worse. Citing preliminary numbers, IC3 said Americans lost $82 million to romance scammers in the last six months of 2014 alone, more than they did for the entire year in 2013. Since many victims are too embarrassed to report they've been duped, the actual amount lost is likely considerably higher.
AARP is trying to raise awareness among older adults about the dangers of online dating while also spurring the industry to do more to keep the crooks off their sites. "If you put yourself in the situation of the person looking for love, they might not even know that these websites have scammers on them," says Amy Nofziger, director of AARP's Fraud Watch Network. In its current issue, AARP the Magazine has an in-depth feature on how online dating scams work (nwsdy.li/aarpdating).
There are signs that indicate a person on a dating site is a potential scammer. While they claim to be Americans, many con artists are really in Eastern Europe, Africa or Asia, so poor spelling and grammatical errors in profiles and messages are red flags, Nofziger says.
Once scammers find a potential victim, they start preparing for the payoff. Typically, after weeks of increasingly amorous messages, they set up a face-to-face meeting. "You're so excited you're going to meet the love of your life, then, 'the crisis' happens," Nofziger says. "They need $2,000, they need $3,000, because of an accident or the airline won't accept their credit card." The scammer, of course, promises to pay you back. But if you wire them the money, they will ask for more, citing another "crisis." While it may be hard to believe anybody falls for this, Nofziger says many victims are so lonely and vulnerable they ignore their better judgment.
For more tips on how to spot an online dating scam, go to nwsdy.li/datingscams. If you've been a victim of a scammer, report it to the FBI's IC3 at nwsdy.li/ic3. You can also call AARP's Fraud Watch Helpline at 877-908-3360.