As if the Internet needed a worse reputation when it comes to online romance, a new report by The New York Times has found that for the elderly, dating sites are increasingly dangerous.
According to The Times’ Elizabeth Olson, common Internet scams, such as requesting funds for expensive medical procedures, have found their way to dating sites where the elderly, and often widowed, congregate.
“Many of those targeted are women, especially women in their 50s and 60s, often retired and living alone,” Olson reported. “Older people are ideal targets because they often have accumulated savings over a lifetime, own their homes and are susceptible to being deceived by someone intent on fraud.”
Internet scams are nothing new. In 2008, CBS News reported that such scams had reached new highs, costing unaware users a collective amount of $240 million.
The realm of chat-room romance is also no stranger to dating deceit. According to The Huffington Post, victims of dating site fraud lost $50 million in 2011.
According to Olson, dating sites make good homes for scammers (or what she calls “swindlers”) because they can hack into “a dormant dating profile” and use it to build emotional relationships with emotionally vulnerable men and women who are desperate for companionship.
One of the red flags to look out for, according to Olson, is requesting to talk via email, instant messaging or even phone calls instead of using the dating site’s services. Scammers will also oftentimes claim to be “working as a contractor or builder in Malaysia or another country where he encounters trouble with local authorities,” but can also speak English fluently.
“Despite warnings, the digital version of the romance con is now sufficiently widespread that AARP’s Fraud Watch Network in June urged online dating sites to institute more safeguards to protect against such fraud,” Olson explained, adding that “the safeguards it suggests include using computer algorithms to detect suspicious language patterns, searching for fake profiles, alerting members who have been in contact with someone using a fake profile and providing more education so members are aware of romance cons.”
According to the National Council on Aging, Internet fraud is one of the common forms of fraud affecting seniors.
“While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ubiquitous on the web and email programs,” the NCOA explains. “Their unfamiliarity with the less visible aspects of browsing the web (firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example) make seniors especially susceptible to such traps.”
You can read the rest of Olson’s report at The New York Times.
JJ Feinauer is a writer for Deseret News. Email: email@example.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.