Stay Safe from This Senior Scam in 2022

Senior scam 2022

As 2022 gets underway, retirees across the country are taking a careful look at their finances and making plans for the year. High COLAs for Social Security beneficiaries and new guidelines relating to the COVID-19 pandemic might ease some worries for seniors this year. However, one thing retirees need to keep in mind as they plan for 2022 is how to stay safe from a new senior scam.

How does this scam work? Scammers are targeting Social Security beneficiaries by sending fraudulent letters on official-looking letterheads. According to the Social Security Administration, these letters will ask recipients to call a number to activate their cost-of-living adjustment. However, the SSA cautions that COLAs are automatic. While the scammers might use authentic-sounding names, even the names of real SSA officials, you should be wary of anyone making threats or demands.

What This 2022 Senior Scam Looks Like

What can you do to stay safe? Ignore letters, texts, emails, or calls from anyone who:

  • Demands your personal information
  • Threatens to suspend your SSN or seize your bank account
  • Demands payment, often through gift cards

Have a loved one look over any messaging you find suspicious. And you can report scam attempts to the Social Security Administration so they can investigate.

More Updates from The Seniors Center Blog

The Seniors Center is here to help you stay safe from every senior scam in 2022 and beyond. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook so you never miss an update!

Stress and Scams Go Hand-in-Hand, Finds New Study

stress and scams

Being on the receiving end of a scam call or email is frustrating at any time. However, if you’re stressed, it’s possible that you could be more susceptible to frauds. Stress and scams, according to a report by AARP, are closely linked.

Staying aware of current scams can help you avoid giving out personal information. Learn more from The Seniors Center Blog today!

The Connection Between Stress and Scams

There are a number of risk factors that can make an individual more likely to fall victim to a scam. These can involve what time of day they’re targeted, their age, and even recent life events.

Those who have recently been through a traumatic and stressful event such as a divorce, illness, or job loss are more likely to give out information or even money to a scammer. Why? Because scam artists use these events to their advantage.

Scam artists learn everything they can about their marks and use this to keep victims distracted. Those who have been through stressful events might also not have a strong network of support to fall back on. This is a cocktail for disaster.

Stay Safe from Scams

Learning about these risk factors can help you stay safe from scams. In times of stress, don’t let your guard down. Investigate suspicious calls and reach out to loved ones for help if needed.

The Seniors Center Blog is here to help seniors avoid scams and frauds. Make sure to follow The Seniors Center on Twitter and Facebook so you never miss an update!

Romance Scammers Targeting Seniors Through Social Media

romance scams

For seniors, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has been a lifeline. Many older Americans enjoy connecting with friends and family on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites. However, there can be hidden dangers lurking on social media. For some seniors, these dangers come in the form of vicious romance scams.

What Are Romance Scams?

Romance scams, also known as dating scams, totaled more than $300 million last year, according to USA Today. Much of these losses were for retirees who have been targeted on social media. The way these scams operate is that a scammer sends their target a friend request and attempts to strike up a friendship or romantic relationship. Then, they’ll move the conversation off of social media and begin texting or calling. Eventually, they will ask for money, possibly for an emergency. They’re likely to ask for a wire transfer or gift cards.

It can be difficult to sort out scammers from individuals who are truly looking for friendship. Senior citizens can stay safe by keeping conversations on social media and not giving out personal information. Research friend requests before accepting them by looking at their profiles. And if you feel suspicious, talk through your concerns with friends and family.

The Seniors Center Blog wants seniors to stay safe. Learn more about recent scams targeting seniors and how to avoid falling into a trap today. And follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more updates—we’re one account you can trust!

Government Imposter Scams Targeting Seniors

government imposter scams

You might know to stay clear of calls from unknown numbers, as these can be scams targeting you for money or information. The ubiquitous calls asking about your car’s extended warranty, for example, are easy to hang up on. But what about when you receive a call from an unknown number and the person on the other end of the line is from Medicare? Or the IRS? Would you be so quick to hang up? Scammers prey on this hesitation in order to steal from vulnerable seniors. Learn more about how to spot government imposter scams so that you can stay safe.

What Are Government Imposter Scams?

Government imposter scams typically involve phone calls. The person on the other end of the line will immediately jump into either threats, demands, or even offerings of money to get you to give up information or money. According to AARP, some of the most common government imposter scams include:

  • Posing as a Medicare employee
  • Pretending to be from the Social Security Administration
  • Acting as a student loan officer
  • Pretending to give out a grant
  • Posing as the FBI

How to Stay Safe

The government will not call with demands—instead, government agencies will typically communicate through the mail. If you’re concerned about a phone call or other communication, hang up and call the agency yourself or look into what the scammer is saying online. It’s likely that other individuals have reported similar calls.

The Seniors Center wants retirees to stay safe from scams. Keep up with our blog on scams, fraud, and abuse to help ensure that you’re not caught off guard. And follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

New Testimony Could Keep Social Security from Sending Checks to Bad Guardians

Social Security and guardians

Many seniors have had their lives upended by unwanted guardianships. Guardians step in when an older adult is no longer able to take care of themselves and ask the courts to appoint them as the person in charge of the senior’s finances, living situation, and overall well-being. While it can sound like a good thing that vulnerable seniors have someone looking out for them, guardianships can sometimes be insidious.

The Problem with For-Profit Guardianships

The Seniors Center Blog has reported on for-profit guardianships in the past. These typically involve a non-family member taking control of the senior’s life. They might take from their bank accounts, intercept Social Security benefits, and place the senior into an unhealthy living situation.

New testimony in Congress this September could make a difference. According to reporting by ThinkAdvisor, a witness who testified in front of Congress is calling on the Social Security administration to share information about guardianships and representative payees, who can receive benefits on someone’s behalf. Because the Social Security administration doesn’t currently share that information, they often continue to pay out benefits to this person even if the state has removed them as the senior’s guardian. It’s time for Congress to take action to protect older Americans.

These vicious attacks on seniors need to stop. The Seniors Center is committed to keeping seniors safe by providing timely information on scams and forms of fraud that target seniors. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and FacebookTwitter and Facebook for more updates!

Computer Screen

“Grandparent Scam” Targets Vulnerable Population, Scam Artists Steal Millions

grandparent scam

During COVID-19, senior scams have been on the rise. From vaccine scams through robocalls and texts to romance scams that target lonely older adults, it’s never been more crucial for seniors to stay safe. One of the most insidious senior scams? The “grandparent scam.”

What Is a Grandparent Scam?

In Western New York, hundreds of cases have been reported to the FBI of malicious phone calls to unsuspecting seniors. The intent of these calls? A scammer will pose as the child or grandchild of the senior. During the call, they’ll pretend that they’re in trouble—most likely, legal trouble that requires the senior to send money. Whatever it is, they’ll act like the issue is incredibly urgent. Their request to the senior on the line will be for them to send bail money. In this New York community alone, according to ABC Buffalo, scammers stole over $13 million.

How to Stay Safe

Scammers are likely to get their information about your children or grandchildren through social media. Keep your profiles private and avoid giving out personal information. If you receive a suspicious phone call, hang up. Don’t give them any information, and try to verify who they’re claiming to be by calling someone else. Report any attempted scams to the police.

Don’t get caught off guard by new scams. Follow The Seniors Center on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with the latest news involving seniors!

Contactless payment: safe for your health, but NOT for your wallet

There’s no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has changed pretty much everything about how we live in 2021.

Even as we approach what we all hope is the beginning of the end of this virus, our quarantine habits and behaviors will undoubtedly be with us for the long haul.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  We will hopefully move forward with a renewed appreciation for our health, the health of others, and a useful good practices tool kit to limit the spread of germs and illness. 

I know we all hate the masks and constant hand-sanitizing, but raise your hand if you caught the cold or flu the past two winters.  I know I didn’t.  And with my immune system?  That qualifies as a miracle.

But beyond health and hygiene practices, we’ve embraced new ways of communicating and doing business on a massive scale.  Even the most technophobic among us have had to rely on digital apps and services they’d otherwise avoid like the…well.  You get the picture.

One of the most critical things we’ve had to embrace is finding ways to pay for the things we need WITHOUT making physical contact.  And for that, many of us relied on services like Zelle, Cash App, Venmo, and PayPal to transfer money to vendors or accept money from buyers.

These services are what we call peer-to-peer payment services.  They are simple platforms that allow users to create an account, connect it to a credit card or bank account, and transfer money directly to other users.  It’s a fast, easy, and often instantaneous way to send money to someone else.  And most importantly, it allows us to pay for goods and services without needing to touch a payment machine, touch someone’s bank card, or come into contact with a cashier.

Prior to the pandemic, I would have assuredly told you vendors requiring payment methods like these are the early warning signs of a scam.  Every p2p payment service is different with regards to safeguards against fraudulent payments, but generally, you can think of them like you would think of wiring someone money through Western Union.  In many cases, sending someone money through these services is as good as giving them cash.  Which means if you transfer money to a scammer, there will be very little you can do to recover those funds.  Scammers LOVE that.

But the rules have changed.  All of us, and seniors especially, SHOULD be using electronic payment methods where possible to limit the spread of COVID.  Two years ago, someone REQUIRING risky electronic transfers like this was untrustworthy.  Now, it’s responsible for a seller to refuse in-person cash or check exchange or payment services that require them to show up in person at a physical location to pick up payment.

It’s because of this p2p payment scams have shot straight up to the top of the list among scams affecting seniors.  Not only are more seniors using p2p payment services, but they’re likely new to the p2p payment game.  These new users are among the most vulnerable to the ways scammers use these apps to screw users out of money or goods:

First and foremost, do NOT use these payment services unless you absolutely trust and have vetted the person you’re transacting with.  When it comes to paying someone through one of these apps, know who it is you’re giving your money to.  As we’ve said, few of these services offer any kind of reimbursement if you mistakenly send money to the wrong account or if you send money to someone who doesn’t provide you the items or services you’re paying for.  Verify the legitimacy of the person or the vendor you’re going to pay, confirm their details on whatever app you’re using to pay, and remember anyone can be anyone on the internet.  It is best to only use p2p payment services with people you know—not with mystery vendors on the web.

Most of the creative scams affect those using p2p platforms to RECEIVE money.  Perhaps you’re selling an item or asking someone to pay you for a service you rendered them.

Scammers have several tricks to dodge paying you through these apps:

Fake and stolen credit cards.  A scammer can link these apps to a bogus payment method.  By the time you find out the transaction won’t go through and you won’t receive payment, you may have sent a scammer an item or rendered them a service you can’t get back.

Fake “overpayment” emails.  A scammer can spoof an email from a p2p platform to do one of two things.  They could use it to phish for your login details and gain access to your payment methods OR they could claim someone “overpaid” you for an item, asking you to send a buyer back the overpayment difference.

Canceled payments.  Though some apps, like Zelle, are instantaneous, some take up to several days to process payment.  A scammer can “pay” you for an item or a service, receive that item or service, and then cancel the payment before it processes. 

While social distancing remains a must, there’s no easy way to know who is and is not a scammer using p2p payment.  Unfortunately, in most of these cases, you won’t find out someone is a fraud until after the damage is done. 

Our best advice to limit the damage someone could potentially do to you through these services is to link a credit card rather than a bank account.  While the apps themselves might not offer much in the way of reimbursement, by using credit cards, you can still take advantage of the security measures afforded to you through your credit card to make up for fraudulent exchanges. 

Sorry, Millennials: studies reveal seniors are NOT the most susceptible to scams

It’s been my personal mission to rally people of all age groups around seniors’ issues for quite some time.  Lack of general awareness is what allows abuses against specific groups to go unchecked.  And let’s be real: everyone is going to be senior one day.  The best thing we can do for ourselves in time is create a safer environment for retirees right now.

…Unfortunately, I’m also really into the epic roast war between Millennials and Boomers on the internet.  In my family, the young people were always told, “20-year-olds don’t know anything—don’t listen to 20-year-olds.”  Just before turning 30, it morphed into, “never trust anyone in their 30s.”  One day—when I’m allowed to have an opinion—they’re REALLY going to get an earful.

So, I’m conflicted.   As much as I love the differences from one generation to the next (and all of the opportunities it gives us to poke a little fun at each other from time to time), I’m not a fan of the very real divide those differences can cause.  Especially when that divide isn’t as wide or as solid as we think.

Case in point: telephone and online scams.

Scams are something we tend to associate predominantly with seniors.  Without seeing a single report or any kind of quote from an expert on the topic, almost everyone would tell you seniors are the most susceptible to scammers.

It’s true most scammers eye seniors specifically when they come up with their strategies.  Some of the most profitable scams operating right now in the United States are exclusively targeting retirees, Medicare beneficiaries, and Social Security beneficiaries.  Seniors are more likely to have savings accounts, assets, and are more likely to be living in social isolation, which is incredibly good for a scammer looking to siphon money from a victim in the long term.

But it’s also true scammers go where the opportunity is.  And anyone willing to put their information out there is an opportunity, senior or no.

Remember when I said the best thing we can do for ourselves is to pay more attention to things that affect seniors?  Well, the opposite is true, too: the WORST thing we can do is label something a “seniors’ problem” and walk away from it entirely.  Especially when the problems we wave away because they don’t affect us are actually OUR problems.

The world may call phone and web scams “seniors’ problems,” but that’s NOT what the data is now showing.  In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s analysis of who is making scam reports, seniors may have one more point to make in the “wisdom before beauty” debate.

The FTC says in recent years, 40% of those making scam reports fell between the ages of 20 and 29, compared to 18% being 70 or older.  According to their data, scam reports dramatically decrease beginning at age 50.

This data was determined based on reports made in 2017 and 2018.  But more recent data shows this trend has maintained even into 2021.

According to the Better Business Bureau, adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the highest risk of becoming a victim.  Not only are young people continuing to be most susceptible to scams, but the trend has crossed over from the Millennial generation officially into Generation Z, the oldest of whom are currently between 18 and 24 years old.

Now, before you start thinking about all of the zingers you’re going to throw at your grandchildren over Zoom tonight, seniors are STILL very at risk.  Although more young people fall for online scams than any other age group, seniors still tend to lose the most money.  A college-aged adult may fall for every online scam he sees, but there’s no getting blood from a stone.  I don’t know what your college bank account looked like, but if someone took $100 dollars from me when I was in school, I would have been tapped out for a while.  This age group is NOT known for having spare cash.

Seniors, on the other hand, DO have money in the bank.  They also have home equity, vehicles, working children, and other resources they can potentially use to get money if pressed by a scammer.  Seniors may fall for scams less, but because they have more readily available funds, their losses can potentially be life-altering.

It’s also worth considering the data might not be telling the story we think it’s telling.

The hard data we have says seniors aren’t REPORTING losing to scams at the same level Millennials and Gen Z are.  This isn’t the same thing as saying seniors aren’t losing money to scams at the same rate young people are.

Baby Boomers and older generations didn’t grow up in a society where oversharing was completely normal.  The oldest Millennials, however, were young adults and teenagers when Myspace and Facebook were rolled out.  They’ve been publicly sharing online for half their lives at this point.

And Gen Z?  Whew.  They never had a chance.  They’ve never known a world without constant oversharing.

In fact, this is a major reason why younger generations fall for online scams right and left.  Younger people are far more comfortable communicating with strangers online, doing business online, and putting personal details online.  It’s all they’ve ever known.

Older generations, on the other hand, are slow to take up the newest social media trends.  This is possibly because seniors aren’t primed to jump from one platform to the next putting their entire lives on display.  If I had to pick the single most repeated, most critical, most serious lesson I was taught growing up by the older people in my life, it was “DON’T TELL EVERYONE ALL OF YOUR BUSINESS.”  They all recoil at the thought of posting a photo of themselves online.

But where the comfort with sharing can be a positive thing is reporting crime.  People who are very private and protective of their lives may find it very difficult to reach out and report losing money to a scammer. They may also feel a great deal more shame about being scammed in the first place.

It’s estimated only 1 in 25 seniors report financial fraud.  This fact alone would make seniors the most ideal target in the world—the likelihood you’d ever get reported or caught scamming a retiree is very low.  Not only are seniors less comfortable in general with our online transaction/online sharing/online communication world, but they’re so concerned being victimized will be taken as evidence of mental decline or incompetence that they often hide what was done to them.

So the takeaway from this data isn’t really who falls for online scams less.  That doesn’t really matter all that much—though, by all means, don’t be afraid to whip this fact out at the dinner table if some sassy stripling decides to “OK Boomer” you.

The story here is really about why it’s important for young people and seniors to communicate and invest in each other.  While Millennials and Gen Z consider being victimized by online scammers their grandparents’ issue, they themselves are getting destroyed by online thieves.  My generation still has a LOT to learn from those we often choose to ignore—especially on the issue of privacy.

But our parents and grandparents could learn a lot from us, too.  The data shows that when we get hurt by online fraudsters, we make sure someone knows.  Sure, we might feel the same shame and embarrassment about falling for a stupid online scam, but we also know reporting a scammer may save someone else in the future. 

There is NO REASON AT ALL to feel shame when someone takes advantage of you.  All the shame belongs to the person doing the hurting—never the victim.  If it has happened or does happen to you, don’t be hard on yourself.  These people are very good at what they do, they are very good at picking their targets, and they use every detail about you and what’s going on in the world around you to exploit you.  There’s no such thing as someone who is immune to scams. 

And if it ever does happen to you?  Reporting is essential to protecting others and getting justice for yourself.  Nobody is interested in judging you for reporting a crime—they’re interested in stopping these crimes from happening.

So, as a self-appointed representative of the oft-scammed Millennial generation, I’ll officially concede that we’ve been pretty smug and pretty incorrect about how savvy and safe we are when it comes to scams. 

…Go ahead and let that one sink in because it might a good long while before one of us admits we were wrong to you again.

But I will also say this: if it is indeed the case a lack of senior reporting is contributing to this huge gap in reporting between 20-somethings and retirees, know that we want to help you.  Getting scammed so often ourselves, we know how rampant it is, we know how terrible it feels, and we know it’s not your fault. 

But we won’t know someone is hurting you if you don’t tell us.  So, if you don’t feel comfortable reporting being scammed or if you don’t know how or where to report it, be open with your family and TELL SOMEONE.  Keeping these things a secret is what allows these scams to continue.  And it takes a horrible emotional toll on those who feel they must hide it.

We may like to butt heads on a lot of things, but at the end of the day, we can all agree everyone has a right to be safe, secure, and happy, right? 

And since WE’RE willing to concede we aren’t really as great at the internet as we thought we were, maybe we can make a small generational request..?

“Participation trophies?” Really?

You know perfectly well you gave us those trophies.  Leave us alone.

SSA Inspector General designates March 4, 2021 “Slam the Scam Day”

If you’re planning on visiting CVS, Walmart, or Home Depot today, you might find yourself receiving some valuable anti-scam information from Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul while you wait to finish your transaction.

That’s because as part of National Consumer Protection Week (February 28-March 6), Social Security Administration Inspector General Gail S. Ennis has designated today the second annual “Slam the Scam Day.”

“Slam the Scam Day” is a national public outreach initiative to inform the public about the growing danger and damage of consumer scams, specifically targeting Social Security scams.

Several major retailers are participating, airing warnings over store audio systems and featuring information on-screen at customer service kiosks.

Additionally, the SSA will be holding a Facebook Live event at 7PM EST discussing Social Security imposter telephone scams, and will be hosting a Twitter chat at #SlamtheScamChat starting at 3PM EST.

Last year, the public reported more than 781,000 Social Security scam calls to the SSA.  It is estimated the public lost $44.8 million to these types of scams in 2020.

You can join in on the conversation and protection tips directly from the SSA by using any of the links above to participate in today’s Slam the Scam events.

Romance scams increase over 50% during pandemic, $304 million lost in 2020

We first discussed romance scams on this blog in 2017.  That year, according to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scam victims reported losses of $87 million nationwide.

Since then, the amount of reports made to the FTC have increased 30% year over year.  And last year, romance scams saw the biggest single jump since 2016: a 50% increase in the number of reports made AND over $100 million more swindled from victims than in 2019.

The explanation for this spike is simple: the pandemic has created a massive pool of lonely, isolated potential victims.

Romance scams occur on nearly every social and dating platform online.  In a technique commonly called “catfishing” online, a scammer will create an appealing fake identity on a platform to lure in victims seeking romantic partners or companions.  The romantic scammer will often steal images, names, and personal details of real people on websites like Facebook to create their own fake profile, tailoring the profile to attract an ideal victim.  Frequently, this victim is a senior, a widow or widower, a divorcee, or representative of a chronically isolated group.

Once a victim is identified, the scammer will begin the process of “love-bombing” the target.  Love-bombing is a strategy used by both scammers and abusers to get their victims hooked on the attention they’re receiving and far less likely to walk away or refuse requests.  During the love-bombing stage, the scammer will lavish compliments, gifts, and praise on the victim, ultimately priming them to accept multiple asks and increasingly suspicious behavior.

When the scammer knows the target is fully invested in the “relationship,” that’s when the scam starts.  The scammer will pressure the victim for money for all sorts of reasons, using the affinity the victim has for them as a weapon.  All the while, the scammer will find no shortage of reasons why they can’t ever meet their victim or see their victim despite near constant promises to do so. 

These scams can go on for months and years with virtually no detection.  And due to the deeply personal nature of the scam, victims are far less likely to report them or talk about them with family and friends than other types of scams.

Where previously a scammer may have had to be choosy with his victims, now there are targets everywhere.  We have been separated from our friends, families, and loved ones, prohibited from going to public places to socialize, and driven out of our workplaces for fear of spreading COVID-19.  Our opportunities for social contact of any kind outside of our immediate household have been nonexistent for a year.

The only way most of us can engage in any kind of safe socializing is digitally: through our phones, through webcams, and through text.  Those of us who never depended heavily on the internet for human contact have had to become comfortable with online interaction.  These new social app users may not be vigilant or familiar with how rampant scammers run on these apps.

At the same time, the pandemic has given scammers a tool kit of excuses to ask victims for money and avoid ever interacting with them beyond calls and messages:

“I lost my job.  I need you to help me get by.”

“My hours have been cut.  I can’t earn enough money to come and see you.”

“I can’t come see you.  I may have been exposed to COVID-19.”

“If you care about me, you’ll send me money to get treatment for the virus.”

“My family member is sick and I don’t have the money to take care of them.”

“No, we can’t meet.  I’m caring for an at-risk family member.”

In this environment, we can’t question a potential partner’s unwillingness to engage with us and provide proof they want progress in a relationship as easily.  We are also far less likely to be suspicious of someone we don’t know reaching out to us on an app—it’s the only way to safely meet new people right now.

There’s also the reality that none of us are exactly handling this sudden severe isolation very well.  Even self-identified introverts are learning how much of a difference there is between low contact and NO contact.  We are all suffering for lack of seeing other people.  That suffering makes us extremely vulnerable.

To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding your future partner online.  Online dating and social apps are increasingly responsible for long-term successful unions and marriages.  We’ve come a long way since the dawn of the internet when meeting A Stranger online was something to hide or feel ashamed of.  As we age, maintaining the friendships we already have—let alone cultivating brand new friendships—is easier said than done.  In a perfect world, online socializing would be the greatest thing for seniors dealing with loneliness.

But as it stands, this world is far from perfect.  And with love being the strongest intoxicant known to man, the romance scam is possibly the perfect way to swindle someone out of their life savings.

The hardest part of avoiding this scam—like other affinity-style scams—is not allowing your emotions to steamroll your common sense.  Stripped of the emotional aspects, this scam is actually incredibly obvious and should be easy to poke holes through.

The Telltale Signs of a Romance Scammer

Love at first click.  As much as we like a Romeo and Juliet narrative, it’s rarely the reality of falling in love.  Attraction may be instant, but love is usually something we cultivate over time with another person.  This is NOT the case when you’re dealing with a romance scammer.  Romance scammers typically communicate with MULTIPLE victims at a time, so they’re not interested in investing more time than they need to in gaining your trust.  The hallmark of a romance scammer is the whirlwind nature of the initial meeting to the claims they are hopelessly in love.  If you pump the brakes on the fantasy just long enough to look at the timeline of events with a level head, you’ll see someone who claimed to be your soul mate before they knew anything of substance about you.

You’re smothering me.  In the first stage of a relationship, it is entirely normal for two people to be joined at the hip.  But there’s attached and then there’s attached.  When a romance scammer sees a fish on the line, they want to get it out of the water as fast as possible.  That means they’ll push you to delete all of your dating profiles (so only THEY have access to you—and your bank account) and they’ll often contact you obsessively.  The constant contact is meant to keep you engaged at all times and thinking of almost nothing else but them.  Not only is this part of the love-bombing tactic, but it also eliminates the possibility that you’ll have quiet time to consider how bizarre the relationship is or talk to other people you know about it.  The goal is to get you completely dependent on them for all of your socialization and cut you off from other influences that might steer you away from the scam.  Texts will be constant.  Emails will be constant.  You might even receive phone calls multiple times a day.

Excuses, excuses.  Since romance scammers will conceal their identity completely during the scam, using fake photos, fake biographical information, and a fake location usually, they can’t exactly live up to their promises to come see you without blowing the scam.  The person you think you’re talking to almost NEVER looks like, sounds like, or is that person.  There will ALWAYS be an excuse when it comes to visiting you or even video chatting with you (“I don’t have a camera,” “I don’t have a webcam,” “I don’t have a computer”).  With a lot of these scams being operated outside of the country, the scammer might not even be willing to talk to you on the phone for fear of revealing a foreign accent.  They’ll absolutely PROMISE to come see you—they might even make plans with you to do so.  But they’ll cancel at the last minute every time: a broken car, an illness, trouble at home, a job opportunity, a wedding, a funeral, and ESPECIALLY not having money to do so (so they can ask you to send them that money, of course).  And don’t think you offering to visit THEM is going to change anything.  They’ll be out of town on all of those weekends.  Which is weird since they can’t ever seem to afford to go out of town to see you…

Boo-hoo-hoo.  Romance scammers use pity to steal their victims’ trust and money.  There isn’t a romance scammer in the world who doesn’t have a backstory more depressing than Les Misérables.  Everything bad in the world has happened to them and only them, and that’s why you should listen to all their problems and send them money.  These stories are meant to wear you out emotionally as much as they’re meant to convince you to send them cash.

Gimme, gimme, gimme.  If all else fails, this is the BIG one.  The goal of a romance scammer is to GET. YOUR.  MONEY.  It’s not to be your friend, get to know you, or talk to you.  All of those things are means to a financial end that will preferably come as fast as possible.  Expect the asks to start almost immediately.  They may be subtle or strictly implied (for example, “oh, I WISH I could come see you, but I just don’t have the money for a plane ticket right now…”), especially in the beginning.  But as the relationship goes on, the scammer can get downright cocky about pressuring you for cash.  Whether it’s constantly bringing up hardship to get you to feel sorry for them, asking you directly for help with a financial problem, or aggressively demanding or even extorting you for money, they WILL transition from love-bombing to money quickly.  Normal people don’t ask the people they’ve just started dating for money.  Normal people don’t lay their financial baggage on their partners right out of the gate.  Your cue to run for the hills is the FIRST time someone you’re casually dating asks you for your money.  This is NEVER appropriate behavior early in a relationship.

Catching a Romance Scammer

Even ticking all these scam checkboxes, you may not be prepared to believe the person you’ve grown to care about is a liar.  Again, this is EXACTLY why these scams are so effective: you don’t WANT to believe the person you love is tricking you.

No worries.  There are actionable ways you can verify the identity of your partner.  They may not be 100% effective on their own, but in most cases, these verification methods can reveal at least SOMETHING that doesn’t quite add up.

Scrutinize their social media profiles.  Since you’ll most likely be meeting this person on some kind of social media platform or dating app, you’ll have access to their fake profile (you can also ask to see any of their other profiles on different platforms).  There are some key things to look for that can tip you off to a fake account: a very new profile created date, an extremely low number of followers or friends, very little activity in terms of posts or interactions with other people, a bare bones profile with next to no pictures or personal information, and multiple accounts on different platforms that were all created on the same exact date.

Image search is your best friend.  In almost all cases of romance scamming, the scammer will be using profile pictures and photos stolen from someone else.  The images we put online include metadata (called EXIF data) that can be used almost like a fingerprint to identify copies of the image elsewhere online and lead you to the REAL person who posted the photos.  EXIF data CAN be stripped from an image (often scammers don’t bother to do it or aren’t consistent about stripping every photo they steal), and certain “secure” online communication platforms like Whatsapp automatically strip EXIF data on sent images (be suspicious of anyone who tries to move you from a very public communication platform to a “secure” platform right away for this reason).  But performing a reverse image search on each and every one of the images you have available to you to check for this data is your very first step in looking for fraud.  You can do this via Google Reverse Image Search or a variety of online tools specifically for finding stolen images and exposing catfish.  Should you locate your partner’s images in multiple places online with different names, locations, ages, and other inconsistent details.  You’ve got yourself a romance scammer.

 Ask for an updated photo.  Ask your would-be soul mate to take a self portrait just for you. …While holding a newspaper with today’s date on it.  Or holding a piece of paper with a code word you’ve specified on it.  If they’re not who they say they are (or hit you with he “oh, my phone camera isn’t working right now”), they won’t do this.  They’ll probably launch into a speech about how HURTFUL it is that you don’t trust them.  Yawn.

Romance scams are particularly alarming among other types of financial fraud for having the potentiality to escalate even further than simply robbing you of your savings.  Romance scammers are known to operate in large networks, and there are even cases of romance scams leading to victims getting involved in serious criminal activity.  Romance scam victims have been persuaded to money launder and even mule narcotics unknowingly for their scammers, resulting in serious criminal charges for the victims.

This is a scam that is not only really, really effective, but could lead to increasingly dangerous consequences for victims.  And in the COVID-19 world, these scams are growing in number and harder to resist.

Do NOT allow the fear of scams to ruin the safest way for you to communicate with your loved ones.  But do be very aware of how vulnerable we all are to these scams in the current day and how widespread they are.  If you are using online platforms to meet a new partner, don’t allow isolation to affect your judgment—anyone can be anyone on the World Wide Web.