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Romance Scam: Older Americans Frequently Targeted In COVID Epidemic

True love can be a victim of scammers, too. In a twist on the typical romance scam, the FTC found some people who said they fell in love with someone they met on a dating website, but it turned out to be a scammer.

In one unusual case, the imposter pretended to be a soldier. One victim reported losing more than $100,000 from lost or stolen cashier’s checks.

Among romance scam losses, the trade commission found that out of the $164 million in reported losses, three million victims lost an average of $4,139. The median loss, though, was much higher. Among all scams, the median loss was $6,500.

Ironically, older adults are considered to be more tech-savvy than others. But because romance scams are often run through social media sites, they are not being caught in the same ways.

Love cost varies based on age, income, relationship status, and other factors. Older adults, for example, are not necessarily better at spotting romance scammers than younger people. The price of romance scams totaled at least $304 million in 2020.

The research showed that about three-quarters of victims who were 60 or older fell for the scammer’s trick.

Among all scams, however, the FTC found that women reported experiencing more romance scams than men. And women also reported losing more money through romance scams than men – an average of $4,806 compared to $4,905 for men.

The people who fell for romance scams reported median losses were $5,000. And overall, women reported losing more than $1 billion to all scams.

As with other scams, age and financial status are important factors determining whether someone falls for a romance scam. Older consumers are often more vulnerable to romance scammers. 

They may be more trusting of strangers and maybe financially vulnerable because they typically have lower incomes or fewer retirement savings than older adults who didn’t fall for the scammer’s tricks.

Romance Scammers

Kate Kleinert, the woman who testified about romance scammers, is a good example. She was a 67-year-old widower living on Social Security and a small pension.

“I don’t think people like to think that they’re gullible,” Tony Poss said. “But more trusting people may not be as sharp as some people; they might fall for these scams. 

Those statistics of the most victimized, less knowledgeable, and low who fall for these scams. They don’t need it as much as others.”

Tony said that the FTC is improving consumer education and providing more warning signs to older consumers through webinars, online videos, and new tools on its website. 

After getting requests for advice from older consumers, she said the FTC is considering providing one-on-one counseling to those who need it.

“We can’t say that everybody is going to fall for this, but there are just so many different ways that people are trying to get into your life and take your money,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to tell our side of the story.”

FTC tracks all scams and breaks down what appears to be the cost of the scams in terms of median losses. For example, romance scams cost victims a reported $5,000 on average. 

That does not mean that every person who fell for the scam lost $5,000. It is a median number based on all complaints reported to the FTC and means that half of the victims lost more than $5,000 and a half did not.

Those who fall victim to romance scams tend to report their losses at once. The FTC found that most victims reported their losses within three months of the initial scam for all types of scams. A complete 51% reported their losses within a month.

But even detected after they have been duped, the scammers don’t always refund consumers. That’s because many times, they don’t have a valid mailing address or phone number.

FTC research found that when people reported their losses, about 80% who lost money for romance scams asked for a refund. 

That’s not surprising when you consider that the median loss for all scams was $1,000, which means that most victims of romance scams do not report their losses to the FTC because they don’t want to lose the few dollar refunds.

“That’s one thing we would like people to remember,” Tony said. “This is a different world. If you’re going to send money to someone online, it’s tough to get your money back.”

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