How to Avoid Romance Scams as a Senior in Canada
Romance scams are a growing problem for seniors. Learn the warning signs, how to avoid them, and what to do if you think you might be a victim of romance scam.
Everybody wants to be loved. In today’s digital age, you’d think it would be easy to find your soulmate on the Internet.
The problem is, technology makes it very easy for people to hide behind a screen and pretend to be someone they’re not. This means that what a person thinks is his or her “dream lover” can turn out to be a nightmare.
Several authorities and agencies which work to protect seniors have pointed to the dangers individuals face when seeking love online.
The the RCMP, Agingcare.com, and the American Federal Trade Commission have all warned that scammers create fake profiles on dating apps, social media, and other websites in order to take advantage of unsuspecting seniors looking for love.
CTV has reported that romance fraud is the No. 1 scam, and cost Canadians more than $22.5M in 2018.
Scammers lie about their name, age, location, and even their gender. Usually they will use photos of another attractive person rather than themselves. They will likely message you every day, and seem to be falling in love with you very quickly.
Scammers will spin an elaborate web of lies, and say exactly what you want to hear. They do this to gain your trust, and will continue for months if needed. Scammers will repeatedly come up with excuses not to meet in person or make a video call.
When they feel they’ve earned your trust, scammers will ask for money.
Reasons they give for needing the money are usually things like needing plane tickets, medical procedures, customs fees, prison bail, paying off debts, or immigration documents.
Romance scammers will find excuses to get as much money from you as possible, then disappear, never to contact you again. Oftentimes they are located outside of the country, so even when reported, police can’t do much to punish them or get your money back.
In 2019, 62-year-old Evelynne Winchman lost $250,000 in the span of six months.
CBC tells us the money went to a supposed love interest whom she had met on Tinder.
He told her he was a civil engineer about to go to Turkey to build a charity hospital. He then proceeded to ask for money to help him travel there. Once he had been “in Turkey” for about two weeks, he begged Evelynne to send him $300,000 to bail him out of Turkish prison. He claimed to have been unfairly arrested, and unable to leave without paying, so she sent over the money.
When the time came for them to meet in person, the man was nowhere to be seen, and Evelynne hasn’t heard from him since.
She sold her car to pay for his flight to Edmonton, and afterward she had to sell her house just to get by. The stranger had promised her a new life in California, then left her with nothing.
CTV reported that 760 Canadians were victim to romance scams in 2018, losing an average of $30,000 each.
These types of scams most commonly affect people aged 40 and up, especially widows and divorcees.
Scammers are hoping to find someone who is lonely because they are likely to be the easiest to convince that they are in love. Preferably, they want someone who is rich, so they can get more money, but they will target anyone they can get a hold of. If you’re not very wealthy, they’ll take what you do have.
So how can you prevent yourself from falling for one of these sweetheart scams?
First of all, knowledge is power. Lucky for you, you’re reading all about it right now! Knowing the warning signs is the first step to protecting yourself from any online scam. There are also several strategies and rules of thumb you can use to protect yourself.
In their list of 10 Tips for Spotting and Avoiding Scams, Agingcare.com has some great suggestions like doing your research, sharing with your loved ones, and pursuing relationships face-to-face when possible.
When you first contact someone, do a reverse image search of their profile picture. Google Chrome allows you to drag images into a box near the search bar. If the results of this search bring up a different name than the person who contacted you, then remove/delete/unfollow/unfriend them; it’s almost certainly a scam.
Telling your friends and/or family about your virtual love interest is a good idea because sometimes others can spot the things you might miss when you are excited about a new relationship.
If someone you meet online makes excuses whenever you ask them to meet in person or even have a video call, it’s probably a scam.
If they ask for money, it’s also probably a scam.
If you get a gut feeling that something is off, it probably is.
Never transfer money to someone you haven’t met in person. Like this Trend Micro blog says, don’t give out personal information online that may be used to manipulate you. Even sharing things like your middle name, mother’s maiden name, or first pet, can help a scammer with security questions and facilitate identity theft.
Never give out banking information like credit card numbers, social insurance numbers, or which bank you go to.
On a final note, it’s a good idea to put these defensive practices into use even here. GoldenVoices.com is meant to be a safe website for seniors to enjoy. What should give you comfort is knowing that there are safeguards built in to help protect you from sweetheart scams. You are able to accept or reject contact requests and remove contacts at any time.
Do not hesitate to reject a contact request from someone you don’t know. You do not have to accept any connection if you don’t really care to meet someone new. Equally, you should feel empowered to remove an established contact if the individual’s behaviour makes you suspicious or uncomfortable.
Know that it’s against the rules of the website for members to solicit money on GoldenVoices.com. If someone asks you for money on GoldenVoices.com, contact the administration through the “Contact us” section.