Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fraudsters Targeting Those Looking for Love Online

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fraudsters Targeting Those Looking for Love Online

Article excerpt

When investigators in the fraud watch department of Washington, D.C.-based AARP received a call from a senior citizen late last year who had lost $300,000 to a con man she met on an Internet dating website, the organization looked into the problem. It found that in just the past six months of 2014, an estimated $82 million had been lost to online romance scams.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a joint project of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, found 29 percent of people targeted in such scams were women 50 or older, who accounted for more than 51 percent of all financial losses in romance scams.

"It's a big problem for senior citizens," Amy Nofziger, director of AARP's Fraud Watch Network, said. "The problem is a lot of them go on online dating sites and don't even know fraudsters are lurking on them. That's why we are educating them about this problem and ways to spot scammers and how to protect themselves.

"When victims believe their love interest is available 24 hours a day, it's because they are working in teams and working off scripts," she said.

A big red flag, she said, is when the online suitor spells his name different ways at different times, such as Steven or Stephen.

"Another red flag is if the online suitor's emails contain many misspellings or bad grammar," Ms. Nofziger said. "Most of the scammers are overseas. Their main intention is to steal your money, never to start an emotional relationship with you."

Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to Internet dating scam artists because, like the $300,000 victim from Virginia, they are often widowed and lonely.

The Virginia victim met her suitor on the popular dating website, but all dating websites are potential playgrounds for people trying to trick others out of their money.

Many of the seniors who get wooed by online con artists are not necessarily rich but middle class people who have scrimped and saved. …

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