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Online Relationships: Beware of Scams

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Many people these days meet new friends or love interests online. Sometimes it’s by intentionally seeking relationships on dating sites or apps, while other times it’s a matter of meeting someone on social media or in a chat room, and it turns into an online relationship. Enter the fraudster, who builds trust through this means for the sole purpose of stealing money from victims.


How It Works:

Scammers in these scenarios typically are quick to get their victims to continue their conversations through personal email or instant message, like texting. They are quick to profess love. Eventually – and it may be months in, the request for money will occur. Maybe it’s to buy a plane ticket to meet you in person, or a business opportunity, or a medical emergency.


Just this month, our AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline heard from a victim who was contacted with a friend request on Facebook.  The relationship continued by phone and text for several months. Earning the victim’s trust and love, the scammer stole $5,000 from his victim and disappeared.


Another victim met her scammer on a popular matchmaking site. The “love interest” convinced her over time that he was from Norway and he eventually asked for money for a project on an oil rig. The victim realized it was a scam on Christmas, when her “love interest” did not show up as promised. By then, she had already lost $530,000 to his scam.


What You Should Know:

  • This scam is hot and growing, according to the FBI. Reported incidences were up three-fold between 2012 and 2016, and reported losses were $220 million in 2016 (and we know many victims never report these crimes).
  • Based on calls to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline, this is a growing concern by adult children of parents who are falling victim to these scams, and the parents refuse to believe it’s not real.

What You Should Do:

  • If you suspect the person may be a scammer, cut off contact immediately.
  • Never wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards for someone you have only an online relationship with.
  • Check the person’s photo, using Google’s “search by image” feature; if the same picture shows up elsewhere with a different name attached to it, that’s a sign a scammer may have stolen it.
  • Be wary of flirtatious and overly complimentary emails. Copy and paste the text into a search engine and see whether the same words show up on websites devoted to exposing romance scams.
  • Contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 if you have questions or think you’ve been a victim of a scam, or are concerned about a friend or loved one who may be a victim.
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