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AL Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Could a Senior You Love Fall Victim to Sweetheart Scams?

Why do online scammers and cyber criminals tend to target Older Americans when committing financial crimes? The reason why is because seniors are often vulnerable, have access to money, and are more easily fooled than younger adults who may have grown up using the internet. 

Scammers also look for opportunities when seniors may be at their most vulnerable. Romance scams are a leading form of online financial exploitation aimed at older adults. In this regard, Valentine’s Day, February 14th, is one of the biggest opportunities of the year for these bad actors to harm trusting seniors.  A romance scam can happen when a cyber criminal attempts to gain the trust of a senior adult by expressing love and care for him or her, especially if the senior seems lonely and socially isolated. Unfortunately, the trusting senior adult does not realize that the whole exchange is a premeditated act that usually involves a false identity and an attempt to gain personal information and ill-gotten financial gain.

The following are a few valuable tips we want to share with older adults and their families that can be used to protect everyone, both financially and emotionally, this Valentine’s Day.

1. Let Us Teach You How to Spot a “Lonely Heart” Scam.

• Be on the alert about anyone who introduces themselves online, whether through social media, email or message boards and you have never met them in person.

• Trust your instincts, if someone seems too perfect, they probably are. 

• Many times after meeting in a shared forum, like Facebook, scammers will try to get you to communicate in a private online setting, like email, messenger apps, or even by phone.

• Do not allow yourself to be emotionally manipulated. It is a serious red-flag if someone online tells you they love you after a brief period of time and then they start pushing you to trust them with your personal information or money. 

2. Let Us Give You Ways to Protect Yourself First From Fraud.

• Absolutely never send money or credit card information to someone you have never met in person. 

• Absolutely never send personal information that can be used for identity theft.

• You have the power to cut off contact as soon as someone online starts asking you for credit card, bank, or government ID numbers.

• The best advice we can give you is to ignore uninitiated contact, but you can also gauge honesty by asking specific questions about the details in a person's online profile. Remember, a scammer’s story may not add up. 

• Always do your research. For example, many scammers steal photos to use in their profiles.  Ask family and friends their advice about a new contact.

• Remember, if you think you are being targeted, immediately cease all communication and contact the police and the oversight function for the online forum where you met them.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online financial scam, do not wait to contact the authorities. Time is of the essence when attempting to catch a cyber criminal before another person is harmed. We also encourage you not to wait to contact an elder law attorney to learn more about your rights and appropriate courses of action. He may be able to give you advice on how to protect yourself. Perhaps even more important, your attorney can provide you with guidance on the estate planning you need to ensure that should you be unable to make decisions for yourself, there is someone with legal authority who is able to act on your behalf. 

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