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Sweetheart Scams on Rise Targeting Seniors

Romance scammers create fake profiles, build relationships with individuals through social media, dating apps and websites, and then attempt to steal their money and disappear.(geralt/Pixabay)
Romance scammers create fake profiles, build relationships with individuals through social media, dating apps and websites, and then attempt to steal their money and disappear.(geralt/Pixabay)
February 14, 2019

ROCKVILLE, Md. – Senior groups and law enforcement agencies are warning people this Valentine's Day to avoid becoming broke with a broken heart.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams soared last year with reported hoaxes reaching more than 21,000 compared with around 16,000 in 2017.

Studies show cyberspace is a hotbed for scammers.

Dating apps, social media and online dating sites increasingly have become popular with adults with sites such as Match.com claiming people 50 and older represent the largest share of users seeking love online.

With seniors experiencing scams at twice the rate of people in their 20s, Tovah Kasdin, director of the ElderSAFE Center, says the center is hosting a romance scam seminar on Thursday to keep people on guard for fake love and compliments.

"The older adults feel like they can trust them and then shares sensitive information, which then gives rise to this scam and them losing their assets,” Kasdin explains. “So what we want to impress upon folks is this information is yours and yours only."

The seminar will feature speakers from the FBI and Maryland's state attorney's office. It starts at 9:30 a.m. at Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville.

Other groups such as AARP have romance scams on high alert. AARP provides help on its Fraud Watch Network.

Jennifer Holz, associate state director for outreach at AARP Maryland, says 59 percent of AARP’s members agree that online dating is a good thing. But she says it's important to be on guard for any urgent request for funds, or sudden heart wrenching stories about desperate situations.

"The first thing they could do is cut off contact right away with that person if they suspect in any way, shape or form that they are being scammed,” she states. “They should never ever wire money or put money on a gift card. You'll find that these scammers ask for gift cards because they are not traceable."

Holz says suspected victims then should contact the authorities or the AARP helpline at 877-908-3360 for help on what to do next.

Romance scams can impact anyone, young or old. The Federal Trade Commission shows losses also ballooned since 2017, from $88 million dollars to $143 million, which is more than any other type of consumer fraud.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MD