Avoiding romance scams

Older singles are pretty savvy when it to comes to Internet dating. Most have learned the ropes from experience, friends' experience, or by educating themselves about the Internet's dark side. However, I hear from singles all too often who admit they lost money in a romance scam.

The losses can be devastating. Many singles 60-plus are on limited budgets and just paying the monthly fees some dating sites charge can be a stretch.

"The average person involved in a romance scam loses $11,500.00," says Barbara Sluppick, the founder five years ago of www.romancescams.org, a website dedicated to fighting romance scams (note: this is an ".org" site, not the ".com" site included in last week's warning follow up).

Sluppick says scammers work like telemarketers: "They send out thousands of contacts every day. It's like fishing. They figure if they cast enough bait they will hook a live one. Scammers work a dozen or more profiles at the same time, so while a scammer is posing as a man in one profile, he is also posing as a woman in others."

Sluppick said that these scammers don't target any particular group of singles, however, lonely, vulnerable people may be more apt to respond to the initial contact, which is why so many of them get reeled in.

Surprisingly, men are often victims. Sluppick said, "There are just as many men that fall victim, but men tend to be less vocal about their experiences. Men are harder to convince that they are being scammed. Most are taken in by the beautiful pictures the scammers use, whereas women fall more for the beautiful words behind the pictures."

According to Sluppick, the scammers pay for their dating site memberships using stolen credit cards, which is why they try to get their victims off of the dating sites and into instant messaging or emailing quickly. They tell victims they are deleting their profile to prove their love, when in reality, they know they will be deleted when the dating sites discover a stolen credit card is being used.

All dating sites have scammers, even those catering to seniors. Sluppick says, "Scammer profiles will show they are local to the victim and then will say they are working in West Africa, the UK, Malaysia, and South Africa."

These scammers have no conscience. "We are seeing a huge increase of scammers posing as soldiers. Lots of victims have come to us reporting they have been talking to someone in the military stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan," Sluppick warned.

Sluppick started http://groups.yahoo.com/group/romancescams/, a Yahoo! discussion group, to provide a forum where people who had been scammed could share and talk about their experience. There is no cost to join the group.

"Little did we know how fast it (the group) would grow. We are about education and fighting to have something done about these scams.

"I am sorry to say scams are growing all the time. Phonebusters, the Canadian organization that deals with online scams, recently said that more money is earned in online scams then in the drug trade.

"Australia recently put together a commission to deal with these scams as they have discovered their losses are topping $1 Million dollars a month," Sluppick reported.

Statistics on Romancescams.org are staggering. Currently there are close to 17,000 members. Since its inception, 44,727 people have been members. Approximately 5,000 scammers have been identified and 7,468 photos of scammers have been posted. Nearly 1,000 members have admitted losing $11,244,371 to scammers.

According to Sluppick, that loss number is just the tip of the iceberg. "Most people, due to the embarrassment, do not report what has happened to them," she says.

Before senior singles start Internet dating, they need to educate themselves about romance scams to avoid the embarrassment and pain of becoming a victim. I strongly urge singles to become familiar with www.RomanceScams.org.

A search on Google will reveal other helpful sites as well.

P.S. I mentioned-but purposely did not provide a link to a website that Patty switched to called Senior People Meet.

I want to be clear that in no way am I endorsing that site, or any other dating site. It is important to check out any site that you might be considering before joining them whether it's a free site or a site that charges a fee.

One of our subscribers wrote: "Much to my surprise, most review sites have horror stories about many scammers on this service (Nigerian hoaxes, those who would prey on senior women, etc.)

The subscriber said, "Check out the comments on these sites:


Before signing up for any dating site, do your due diligence research.

© 2010, Tom Blake

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Tom Blake is an expert on dating after 50. He has appeared twice on the "Today Show" and has written more than 500 columns on dating and relationships. His "Single Again" column appears in The Orange County Register in southern California, is read worldwide and is often featured on msn.com. He is a professional speaker. He spoke at the national AARP convention in San Diego in 2002, and in Chicago. His book, Middle Aged and Dating Again, is a humorous account of his first year of dating after his third divorce. His second book is Finding Love After 50: How to begin, where to go, what to do. His latest book is titled How 50 Couples Found Love after 50. To ask a question or receive Tom's free weekly column on middle-age dating and relationships by e-mail, click on www.findingloveafter50.com or E-Mail.

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