“Shun the frumious bandersnatch,” Lewis Carroll.
People have tried to scam me online on dating sites. Hinge was the worst with five attempts. The first was on OK Cupid. These are called Sweetheart Scams. I didn’t fall for them, and you don’t have to, either.
Why do I keep getting on dating sites? For one, it’s the easiest place for older singles to meet. For another, I know the signs to watch for possible scammers. You’ll know the signs, too, after reading this article, and what to do when you encounter a scammer.
First, why do scammers target older singles on dating sites? Primarily, there’s an assumption that with age comes financial stability. They believe we have money. Even though that’s not necessarily the case, which makes the successful Sweetheart Scams of older people even sadder. They also consider us as not being technologically adept, therefore easier to scam.
Scammers also count on older singles, especially seniors, being lonely and even desperate. Older single women in the U.S. outnumber single men, so we are prime targets. But older men get scammed, too. After he had a stroke, one daughter discovered her father had sent $700,000 to someone who claimed to be a younger woman with a child.
What is a scammer? They are groups of people in a call center, usually, often from other countries than yours. They post stock photos of an attractive person.
Or perhaps they steal actual profiles from other social media users. Then they may add stock photos of dogs, cats, motorcycles, or children. They can look very convincing.
After you begin messaging on the dating site with them, they may ask for your number to exchange texts. They can use your number to hack your phone. If you give it to them, they may agree to arrange to meet, but they never will. Because the person you think you’re messaging doesn’t actually exist.
Sometimes they will agree to talk with you on the phone. Usually they don’t follow up with that either. If they do, they will have an accent. Often on their profiles they will claim to be from South Africa, France, Jamaica, or anywhere that will explain away an accent. No, those accents aren’t the same, but scammers count on their targets to not be able to tell one accent from another.
One actually gave me a number to call. He answered. He had an accent. I suggested we meet, and he said he would drive to meet me. I asked where he was, and he said California. I’m in Texas. He has a pretty vague idea of American geography. When I confronted his lie, he offered to fly to meet me.
One woman I know was contacted by a dating site scammer who even sent videos to her of “him” and “his daughter.” That took special hubris on the scammers part, because the video had to have been stolen off someone’s social media. She fell for it, of course, because it seemed so real. Until several weeks later, when he asked her to send money. She was devastated.
That scammer, and another one who contacted me, claimed to be working overseas temporarily. Mine even sent pics of a bridge he was building in Africa. He claimed to be an engineer. He had photos of “himself” with an adorable girl he claimed was his daughter.
I suspected within a week or so that this guy wasn’t real. Still, I was curious and waited until the inevitable moment he claimed the hotel where he and “his daughter” were staying had been robbed. His story was elaborate.
He said the entire hotel had been robbed, including all the guests. This plays on assumptive fears some older Americans have about staying in foreign countries. He said he paid his workers in cash weekly, and so had $10,000 stolen. He had no way to pay his workers. Could he “borrow” the money from me? He would pay me back.
When I said no, “he” asked if I didn’t care about his daughter, who would be thrown out of the hotel, along with him, if he couldn’t pay his bill. He asked if I would just send $500 to help them stay in the hotel.
Obviously, I stayed in contact too long, but after suspecting it was a scam, I wanted to prove it. Then I could, and did, report him to the dating site.
If you have been taken for money from a scammer on a dating site, you can report them to the site, and to your state attorney general. AARP has a Fraud Watch Network, and a helpline, 877–908–3360. Let your bank know the money exchange was fraudulent. You may not get the money back, but you will be even older and wiser, and at least one scammer will be inconvenienced. Sometimes scamming networks get shut down when people report them.
If you are older, prepare ahead for scammers.
Scammers target seniors for perceived wealth, and assumptions of their loneliness, vulnerability and desperation. However, whether you fit that description or not, scammers will try to skam.
You can be both aware, and prepared. Click here for advice from AgingInPlace, about how to avoid all types of scams of the aging. As a psychotherapist, and a seasoned online dater, here is what I’ve observed of scamming through online dating sites, and steps you can take to protect yourself specifically from Sweetheart Scams.
Overcome the scammers’ advantage by stating immediately that you are talking to several people. The scammer will often ask you to be exclusive with them after a very short time of messaging. They may say something like, “It’s amazing we found each other. This is special. I’m getting off the dating site. You should get off of it, too,” or something to that effect.
If you’re widowed, or newly divorced, haven’t dated in a long time, and are lonely or vulnerable, this is the kind of behavior to watch out for, online or in the real world. This is true for all older hetero cis-gender men and women, and older LBGTQI people. Widowers in particular can be anxious to go back to the comfort of a happy relationship. Recent breakups make us all vulnerable. That’s exactly when to be the most cautious with people who claim to care for you early on.
Just as in real life, anybody who tells you too soon that they love you, or have strong feelings for you right away, has ulterior motives. Logically, remember that, online, whoever you’re messaging hasn’t really met you. No matter what they promise, or say, they don’t actually know you at all. And scammers know how to spread out the communication and time spent messaging to make you feel known.
My friend dated a man whose 87 year old mother became so convinced by her scammer, that even after sending him thousands of dollars, she still hoped “he” was real. When her son found out and began investigating, she told my friend, “He better not ruin this relationship for me.” She couldn’t conceive that her “relationship” wasn’t a real person. He had made her feel that known.
Don’t act too eager. There’s a difference in being too eager, and asking to meet someone sooner rather than later. Eager is answering messages immediately, sharing too much information too soon, and not asking enough questions. That’s one way a scammer sees you as desperate.
Asking to meet in a public place, perhaps even with a friend or family member along, is just good common sense. Scammers can’t actually meet with you, since they aren’t who they say they are. You’ll soon know whether they’re real or not. Consistently putting off or canceling meeting is a big, red flag.
Even though you may feel lonely, don’t admit that to a stranger online. Instead, let them know you have friends and family, if you do. Don’t always be available, and in fact, do try to have hobbies, work, volunteering, and other activities that keep you busy. Scammers are counting on you being alone and lonely.
The bonus here is that you really won’t feel lonely and desperate if your life is full. You’ll have less time to spend online. It’s still possible to meet someone in the real world while living your real life. If you don’t, online dating is an excellent choice, as long as you confirm the person on the other end of the messaging actually exists, and isn’t some random person in a scamming call center.
Don’t let the scammers scare you off. Online dating is still one of the best places for older adults to find companionship, sex, and even love. A Pew Research study shows 32% of singles ages 50 to 65+ have used dating sites. Over 40% of older adults are single, but when interviewed often say it’s difficult to meet someone in real life. Further research indicates that online dating is more effective for all age groups, in terms of the longevity of the relationship, and the satisfaction level.
Seniors are the fastest growing demographic on dating sites. Which may make us targets for scammers, but with diligence, and hope balanced with good common sense, we can still find love.