Read excerpts from Mr. McCullaugh's blog.
For the first time it’s estimated that half of all American adults age 65 and older are online.
Many are widowed, divorced, lonely, even disabled. Many visit online dating sites, social media sites and other ‘hangouts’ on the worldwide web. It’s never too late to find a soul mate – and it happens – but these days you must also be very wary of online dating scams. Seniors are one of the most vulnerable groups targeted by unscrupulous Internet predators.
It used to be that these scammers found you by sending an e-mail with some random query. Now they lie in wait on reputable dating sites, chat rooms and other social media networks. They have already seen your ‘profile’ somewhere and seem to know all about you.
The cons usually follow similar patterns. The hoaxer appears interested in you, maybe even professing ‘love’ at first contact. The confidence man or woman even has a profile page somewhere, or website, that appears legitimate and seems to have a lot in common with you. So as not to appear too aggressive, they ‘cultivate’ you with flirtatious e-mails and messages. Then they move from communicating with you on the dating site (which tracks potential scams) to encouraging personal e-mail exchanges. The scammer may even send you flowers or other small gifts. Ultimately, however, your new ‘friend’ is going to ask for money.
After the initial honeymoon buzz, the scammer (who usually claims to be in another country or state) will contrive an urgent personal need for borrowing money. Often they claim to be U.S. citizens who are engaged in international business, which requires them to travel overseas frequently. Maybe it’s a story of having all their documents and credit cards stolen. Sometimes they tell you sorrowfully that a son or sister is ill, and they ask you to wire money for medical treatment — or any number of other bad luck scenarios. Another variation is to ask for money to travel where you are. After you send the funds, you get contacted by a representative who says “Mr. or Ms. Right” was killed in a tragic accident.
Yet another variation is when the con artist actually sends you bank checks or money orders and asks you to cash them and send the money back to them. The only problem is, the money orders and checks turn out to be fake — and YOU are responsible for paying the bank back for the cash you’ve withdrawn. You may even be accused of being ‘in’ on the scam.
A further variation is when you one day receive a link to a website where this scammer has posted all the intimate e-mails you exchanged, as well as your photo, e-mail address, and phone numbers, and claims you are a ’cheater’ or unfaithful. The scammer then tries to extort you for money before these e-mails and personal information are removed.
What are some of the possible signs that you have been targeted?
– You’ve met someone on Facebook or an online dating site who soon professes instant feelings of love.
– Even though you have not spoken or met, the new ‘friend’ starts to ask for money to help pay for medical bills or travel to your location.
– The photos the scammer e-mails to you or claims as his ‘profile’ picture are vague and fuzzy — or else make him look like the second coming of Brad Pitt (a photo no doubt conscripted from a modeling site).
– Your new friend tries to steer you away from a dating site to personal e-mail.
– The friend claims to be a US citizen and is traveling and working overseas.
What are some of the steps you should you take if you feel you have been targeted?
–Don’t send money to someone you really don’t know.
–Don’t cash any money orders or checks you receive without contacting the bank which issued them.
–If the person lives in another country, ask them for a passport or Visa number.
–Don’t give them personal information such as your credit card account or social security number.
Finally, report the situation to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.