Older women now most common romance scam victims: Internet Scambusters #597
Millions of dollars are lost every year in romance scams -- sometimes as much as $600,000 from a single victim.
But the crime also haunts those individuals whose real-life identities are used by crooks in the pursuit of their victims, as we explain in this week's issue.
And in our alert of the week, we warn of a smartphone anti-virus app that allegedly can't spot viruses.
Let's get started...
Millions Lost in Latest Romance Scams
Online romance scams are costing lovelorn Americans a fortune -- and wrecking lives in the process.
In some cases, victims have lost their entire savings, and even their homes.
Despite the fact that these scams get widespread publicity, they're on the rise.
According to IC3, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, dating scams, or sweetheart scams as they're sometimes called, account for more than 10% of all online financial frauds.
And the most vulnerable group, which used to be the middle-aged and older male category, is now older women.
IC3 says almost two thirds of the losses are accounted for by women aged over 50. In the younger age group, men are still more commonly the victims.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives an average 10,000 complaints of this crime every year -- and this is likely just the tip of an iceberg. Most victims probably don't want to admit they've been duped.
As we reported previously in Don't Go Breaking My Heart: The Top Four Online Dating Scams, although some romance scams just involve love cheats, most of them are financially motivated.
The usual approach is for the scammer to "groom" the victim over a period of time, building up their confidence in the relationship, and then to ask for money on all sorts of pretexts.
These days, contact often starts via social networking sites like Facebook and chat rooms rather than simply dating sites, which are increasingly vigilant to the scam risk.
More recently, we've also seen incidents in which victims have been tricked into receiving and forwarding stolen items or products bought online with stolen credit cards.
Scale of the Scam
Oftentimes, the scale of the scam takes your breath away.
For example, earlier this year, Ohio's Attorney General Mike DeWine reported that the average loss suffered by victims in the prior year was $25,000, but the biggest single loss was $600,000.
And in Minnesota, victims were reported to have paid out a total of $1.5 million in the past two years.
In nearly all cases, nationwide, the money is never recovered, having been wired to an untraceable destination usually overseas.
It might seem unbelievable that people would part with sums like this but the psychology of loneliness and the yearning to find a partner can sometimes overrule the common sense we normally rely on to avoid being duped.
For instance, a New Jersey woman who was recently conned out of her $86,000 retirement savings explained of her romantic connection that turned out to be bogus: "It felt good to have that male attention. You want to believe, because you think you're developing a relationship."
She even overrode her own suspicions before cashing in an IRA and sending the proceeds to the scammer: "I've always been a very rational person, and everything told me: 'No, you have to question this. It doesn't sound right'."
Another Type of Victim
Sometimes, the victim is not just the individual in search of romance but also the person whose identity is stolen and used by the scammer.
Case in point: A man whose first name is Alec has repeatedly had his identity used to trick victims.
In his blog he recently reported receiving an average of one scam notification involving his name every single day!
He writes: "These scams take place over a number of popular social networking and communication tools.
"While I've taken down nearly 50 fake Facebook profiles, I've also had my photos appear in profiles set up on dating sites such as eHarmony, Christian Mingle, Match.com, and Plenty Of Fish.
"There are also dozens of Skype accounts that have been created using my photos. The ones that concern me the most are those that actually use my name and photos."
Several victims even had Skype conversations with the person they believed to be Alec.
He believes the scammers are actually even blocking him from accessing the profiles they've set up in his name. The same thing has happened to at least one other victim he has identified.
How to Avoid a Romance Scam
Avoiding a dating scam is a matter of not letting your heart rule your head.
Take a serious tip from the New Jersey woman we referred to earlier: "No matter what they say; no matter what kind of tale they tell you, you really have to be brave and say no."
But we know that can be easier said than done, so check out this list of actions and red flags from one of our earlier issues, 10 Ways to Avoid Online Dating Scams.
One of the leading online dating sites, Match.com, also offers its own list of Online Dating Safety Tips & Advice, which includes guidance to avoid offline romance scams as well.
In addition to these points, beware of your identity being stolen by the dating tricksters.
If you find your name is being used on social networks or Skype, contact their customer service people immediately and ask for the page to be removed.
And it goes almost without saying that if you're looking for romance, use common sense. Follow these tips to stay safe.
Alert of the week: Feel safe because you have a $3.99 app called Virus Shield on your Android smartphone? Be warned that this top seller has been pulled from the Google Play store after security experts said it didn't work. The developer allegedly agreed and said it had been posted by mistake.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.