Financial Scams—Unauthorized Access to Funds

One of the most endearing things about an older person is that they are often very trusting and kind, and when we think of them, one of the things that may come to mind is their generosity. As we’ve discussed previously, today’s seniors were raised in a time where politeness was expected, and someone taking advantage of them was literally not even a thought in their minds.

Today, however, there are those who would seek to use these kind-hearted people for their own ill-gotten gains. Such is the case in the “Sweetheart Scam.” This scam is one of the most widely used scams when it comes to getting financial gain from a victim. It can be done either online or in person, and it preys on the emotions of the victim—oftentimes a lonely senior. Though it’s true that anyone of any age can be duped by just such a scam, the targets are normally those men and women over the age of 60. 

According to John Joyce (SAIC), the Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service office in Tampa, “With most internet scams, including the sweetheart scam, it is difficult to identify scammers due to the fact that they are usually conducting their business from outside of the United States.”

So, how does something like the Sweetheart Scam dupe seniors out of their hard and well-earned money? Normally, the lonely victim meets the scammer on a singles or dating website, and the scammer will often pose as someone also looking for an online relationship. The victim and scammer may chat online, exchange pictures (in reality, the scammer is just sending a random picture of a good looking man or woman depending on the target), and eventually, the two have developed a relationship and “fallen in love.” Over time, the scammer may come up with a story about how he or she needs an operation or has run into a major problem that requires a lot of money to fix. Feeling a need to help out their newfound love, the victim continuously wires money until they have none left. Unfortunately, since scammers often operate outside the U.S., that makes it difficult for authorities to identify and prosecute them.

What’s more—the victim is often stupefied and speechless at having been taken for a fool, and not realizing sooner that this professional manipulator was just taking advantage of his or her emotions.

So how can you watch out for and help prevent a scam like this? Let’s look at 10 tips that you can use to help be on your guard against scammers:

  • Be aware of your environment: Look beyond the superficial qualities, whether online or in person at a public place or event. Deception can come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings.
  • Be honest with yourself: If you’re older, be honest with yourself and ask the question “Why would someone so much younger be so interested or want anything to do with me?” If money has anything to do with it, you know it’s going to be trouble.
  • Never transfer or wire money to anyone: This is especially crucial if you’re communicating with someone from overseas, whom you have never met face-to-face.
  • Keep in touch with family: Share new social interests or friendships with them. Our loved ones often have the best for us in mind, and they can be trusted to give us honest advice and guidance.
  • Consult a professional if an online relationship seems fishy: Law enforcement agents normally look into scammers, so they are often experienced with things like sweetheart scams since the use of social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest, has been on the rise.
  • Do your homework: If you are suspicious of someone, check into their online history. Use search engines like Google to get more information about new people that you meet online or in person if something seems off. Scammers aren’t usually who they claim to be.
  • Limit your use of social media: Many scammers get your personal information online and make use of social media profiles to learn more about you. They may also monitor feeds to pose as new friends or relatives.
  • Purse face-to-face relationships: Avoid dating online if possible.
  • Don’t feel bad: It can be embarrassing to be the victim of a scam, but you’ve got to remember you’re dealing with professional people that know how to manipulate others. Report the scam as soon as possible to local law enforcement. Appropriate actions can only be taken if they know what’s going on.
  • Use common sense: This goes for anyone, both online or in person. If something doesn’t seem right to you about someone, chances are it probably isn’t.