Looking online for love? Be careful. After meeting suitors on Match.com, a well-known dating site, victims across the U.S. have lost upward of hundreds of thousands of dollars to these criminals who pose as perfect partners.
When online dating descends into a big fat con, the emotional and financial wallop can be devastating, and older Americans are among those who have paid the price. It happens, as a top federal prosecutor in Oklahoma put it, to people looking for love, companionship and “a partner with whom to share their life.”
Consider the Utah woman, 81, who said she paid about $26 to subscribe to Match.com earlier this year only to meet a con man. Urging her off the dating site to message each other through Google Hangouts and WhatsApp, he pursued her relentlessly. The 21st century Svengali hid behind an attractive photo and said he was a 64-year-old native of Copenhagen, Denmark, educated in the U.S. and the owner of a construction firm and a four-bedroom home in Oklahoma. He called her “sweetheart,” “babe,” and the “love of my life.” Saying he was retiring in November, he promised they’d marry and began addressing her as “my wife.”
Sweetness reeks of stench
“I’ve never had a man talk to me the way he did, and tell me all this garbage. That’s all it was, garbage,” the woman, who asked not to be identified by name, tells AARP. She never met the pseudo-suitor in person.
The woman alerted the AARP Fraud Watch Network helpline, 877-908-3360, before speaking in an interview. She described being so under the man’s spell that she painted her toenails in a color he liked before a planned get-together in Las Vegas, which never happened.
When the man told her that he was helping build a skyscraper in Venezuela, he suddenly said he needed money for taxes and other issues, including a stolen wallet. In June, she made two wire transfers totaling $130,000 to an associate of his. That was 5,000 times more than the $26 she recalled paying Match.com.
“He was very cunning and very smart,” she says, “and when he figured out that I had enough confidence in him, he played me to the absolute end.”
The FBI warned on Sept. 16 that romance scammers have persuaded victims to send money or purportedly invest in cryptocurrency, leading to $133 million in losses arising from 1,800 complaints in the first half of the year. Most often scammers first contacted victims through dating apps and social media sites, which the warning did not identify by name.