The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I wasn’t planning to write about con artists and scams this week but I was unexpectedly confronted with this issue when an old friend told me she was engaged in an online relationship. My friend (I’ll call her “Janet”) is a divorced woman who has recently experienced family and financial difficulties. Janet is lonely and especially vulnerable to someone who might take advantage of her. When she told me about the individual she met on an online dating site, I was immediately suspicious. His employment situation was odd and his professions of affection for Janet were way too extreme, way too early in their relationship. Janet was also suspicious but she said that she did some investigation and found his credentials to be legitimate. I was still very concerned and I offered to do my own sleuthing. Within ten minutes online, I discovered that Janet’s online beau was indeed, a well-known scammer. I was angry that someone would target my friend but I was glad that we “caught” him before he did real damage.
Not surprisingly, older people are commonly targeted by con artists. Not only are older victims more likely to lose large sums of money to scammers, there’s evidence that our ability to detect deception declines with age. https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2015/online-dating-scam.html)
Older people should be aware of social media, such as online dating sites that include posts from men that show any of the following tell-tale signs of a scam:
- Very sparse content
- Facebook account only recently opened
- Short or nonexistent friends list
- Generic or common name
- Few or generic photos
- Employment status meant to imply wealth or military standing
- Claims to be from your home country and is traveling or working overseas
- Makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event
- Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
10 Tips for Spotting and Preventing Scams
- Be aware of your environment: Try to look beyond the superficial. Whether that is online or in person at a senior center, church bingo event, at a restaurant, the local grocery store or the U.S. post office. Unfortunately, in this day and age, deception comes in all shapes and sizes.
- Be honest with yourself: Look in the mirror and ask yourself the million dollar question—”Why would a much younger individual ever want anything to do with me?” If you discover anything regarding money in your answer, you know you are headed for trouble, with a capital “T.”
- Never transfer or wire money to anyone: This is especially if you’re communicating with a stranger who lives overseas, whom you’ve never met in person.
- Keep in touch with family: Share your new social interests and friendships with them. Your loved ones usually have your highest good in mind, and can be trusted to provide honest advice and guidance.
- Consult a professional if an online relationship seems fishy: Law enforcement agents have investigated scammers and they are experienced with sweetheart scams since the increased usage of social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest.
- Do your homework: Nowadays, many people have left some kind of digital footprint that even the minimally tech-savvy person can find. Use Google, Mozilla Fox, Bing or other internet search engines to discover additional information about new individuals you meet online or in person. Many scammers do not present themselves to be who they actually are. Deception truly is a ghastly game.
- Limit your use of social media: Scammers steal personal information online and utilize your social media profile to learn more about you, your routines, your vulnerabilities, likes and dislikes.
- Pursue relationships face-to-face: Avoid online dating, if possible. If you want to pursue an individual you’ve met online, do a thorough investigation first.
- Don’t feel ashamed: Although it may be embarrassing that you were defrauded, understand that you are dealing with seasoned scammers who have learned how to make a very good living from their inappropriate actions. Make an effort to report the scam as soon as possible to local law enforcement officials. The police department can only take the appropriate action to investigate when you alert them to the event.
- Use common sense: This goes for any interactions with strangers, both online and in-person, to avoid becoming another victim. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing roaming about the internet and in your neighborhood, just waiting for the opportunity to fleece you!
If an online dating scam happens to you or someone you care about, please report it at ftc.gov/complaint — click on Scams and Rip-Offs, then select Romance Scams.
My friend, Janet, was grateful that my research kept her from making a tragic mistake. We all need to learn her lesson for ourselves. Let’s also watch out for the safety and security of our family, friends, and neighbors. Our compassion and assistance, especially as we get older, increasingly needs to include vigilance over internet predators.