(WTNH) — Romance fraud robs Americans of more than $80 million each year. The AARP Fraud Watch Network is calling on the online dating industry to better protect its users. Here to share tips for how to spot and avoid online dating scams is Nora Duncan, state director of AARP in Connecticut and Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris.
Millions of people use online dating sites. AARP The Magazine interviewed a former romance scammer from Nigeria – where many of these con artists operate-who said: “A lonely heart is a vulnerable heart.” These con artists prey on people, mostly older women, who are widowed, divorced, or disabled and just looking for love. Putting yourself out there makes you vulnerable and unfortunately, most dating sites are not doing enough to protect their users.
It is one of the most pervasive scams out there, it is greatly under-reported. Victims tend to lose a lot of money. The average lost last year was about $14,000 per victim.Tell-tale signs of a romance scam:
- The person wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or instant messaging to communicate with you
- The person makes several spelling and grammar mistakes when communicating
- The person sends a personal photo that looks like something from a glamour magazine
- The person professes love too quickly
- The person claims to be from the U.S., but is traveling or working overseas
- The person makes excuses about not being able to speak by phone
- The person plans to visit, but cancels at the last minute because of a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour
- The person asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback)
- The person requests you to wire money or to cash a check or money order and send money back or to a third person; and
- The person makes ongoing requests for more money.
How to avoid online dating scams:
- Proceed slowly, and with caution. Don’t provide your last name, your address or where you work until you’ve actually met.
- Prevent tracking. If you’re using a mobile app, turn off your location settings.
- Check photos! Many scammers steal people’s photos online and assume their identities. Before engaging with anyone on a dating site, use Google’s “search by image” feature to see if that same photo shows up in other places with a different name.
- Check social media. Is what you read on the person’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn pages consistent with what you’re being told?
- When in doubt – get out! The longer you stay in touch, the higher the chance that you will eventually take the bait.
After talking with the FTC, other law enforcement and romance scam experts, AARP is urging online dating sites to take simple steps to better protect users:
- Employ algorithms to detect suspicious language patterns used by scammers.
- Search for fake profiles across multiple dating websites.
- Issue alerts to any member who has been in contact with someone using a fraudulent profile.
- Educate members with tips on how to avoid romance scammers.
AARP has an online petition that people can sign if they want to support this effort. Go to: www.aarp.org/romancescamsWhat to do if you suspect that you or someone you know is being victimized:
- Contact local police and file a report.
- File a complaint at DCP firstname.lastname@example.org
- Notify the dating website.
- Notify the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center www.ic3.gov
For more information or to sign up for the AARP Fraud Watch Network, visit www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork