Love and Fraud Online
~ By Pete Weir, District Attorney, Jefferson and Gilpin counties ~
“Seniors are the fastest growing segment of Internet users, and more and more of them are using the Internet to look for a romantic relationship. In fact, 16% of those active on the top five Internet dating sites are 55 or older.” Even the AARP website now offers a dating service. 11.2 million people who are over 65 live alone; many are looking for love online.
February is the month of love as we are reminded by the celebration of Valentine’s Day. No one wants to discourage or disdain older adults in their search for companionship and love. But if it involves using the Internet, some safety tips might be in order.
Recently we received a call from person who was concerned about a friend who hadn’t been eating regularly. When I called this older adult, she admitted that her finances had been strained but that things were going to improve soon. She said that her “fiancé” was coming from Nigeria in two weeks, they were going to be married, and her circumstances would improve.
She met her “fiancé” on an Internet dating site. He sent a photo of himself. He was about ten years younger than she, quite handsome, and well-dressed. He seemed to be well-educated, had served in the diplomatic corps, and wrote warm and attentive responses to her questions. Soon they moved their correspondence from the Internet dating site to their personal e-mail.
Three months into their correspondence he told her that he had developed some serious medical problems. He asked if she could possibly assist him financially with his mounting medical bills. She began wiring half her Social Security check to him. The purported health problems continued, and so did her financial support. She thought they were in love. He proposed marriage and they began making wedding plans via e-mail. When we spoke with her, he was supposed to arrive two weeks later. She had been supporting him for 16 months. We contacted her again a week after he was to have arrived to discover that new medical problems, requiring more money, had caused him to delay in his travel to the United States.
Tragically, she was being scammed.
Consider these safety tips:
- Remember, someone on the Internet can be anyone, anywhere, any age; an individual’s real identity can be cloaked or faked, especially using phony pictures;
- Be cautious about leaving a dating site to use your personal e-mail;
- Be wary of immediate expressions of love;
- Do not wire money because they express a financial need due to health concerns, a financial setback, an unexpected personal tragedy, or a desire to travel to the United States to meet you;
- Never provide personal financial information such as your bank account number, a credit card number or your Social Security number.