Seniors targeted by online dating scammers, FBI says

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Schemers are continuing to take advantage of people online — and now officials say they’re targeting seniors through dating websites.

More than 6,400 Americans, many of whom are seniors, say they were scammed after visiting online dating sites, according to the FBI.

“I got lonely and I spent a lot of time on the computer playing games, and I just happened to go to the dating site,” said Janet Cook, a 76-year-old widow who decided to try online dating 17 years after losing her husband.

She found a suitor on the very first day, and began a courtship including emails and phone calls that lasted for four months, though the two never met in person.

“I liked him, you know, because he said very sweet things and he was very charming,” she said of the man, who told her he was a contractor from Virginia. Then, she received a message from him about an emergency, asking for money.

He told her he was stuck somewhere in Africa, and was in serious trouble.

“According to the story, he became very ill and he was in the hospital,” Cook said. “I was really worried about him, I thought the man was going to die.”

So she sent him the money, and before she realized what was happening, she was out roughly $300,000.

And Cook isn’t alone in this situation — seniors are a prime target for online dating scams, according to the AARP.

“These are people who have worked so hard for their savings, and now they are giving it all away to the romance scammers,” said Barbara Hannah Grufferman, an author and advocate with the organization. “The studies show that as you get older, your ability to decipher deceit declines. That means as you get older, you have to be even more vigilant.”

There are common traits to help spot deceit, according to the AARP, as online scammers have tendencies to make frequent spelling mistakes, use fake photos, and claim to be working overseas. Seniors should be especially wary of anyone asking for money.

The AARP also says that men succumb to online scams more often than women — but women tend to report the scams when they occur more often than men.

Despite being scammed, Cook hasn’t given up on her search for a companion online — she says she’s just a lot more savvy now.

“I wouldn’t trust anybody on it without doing some kind of background checking and making sure that they are legitimate,” she said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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