Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to express love and affection for someone you care about, but unfortunately it is also a time when online scammers attempt to take advantage of trusting, vulnerable people who are looking for companionship. These so-called romance scams, or “lonely heart” scams, are an increasingly common problem for victims and authorities alike. Seniors, especially Florida seniors, are also prime targets as they typically have access to money, are more easily duped online than other age groups, and are less likely to alert authorities or website proprietors when they have been scammed.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams are trending upward at an alarming rate, with financial losses quadrupling since 2015. The number of romance scams reported to the FTC grew from 8,500 in 2015 to more than 21,000 in 2018. Reported losses went from $33 million to $143 million over the same period.In addition, the median reported loss was $2,600 but for victims aged 70 and over the median loss was $10,000. Bear in mind, this is only what was reported to authorities. 

Cyber criminals often find their victims online through social media websites, senior message boards, and senior dating websites. They typically create phony online profiles that involve a stranger’s photo and an interest in the “right” person. The goal, however, is always the same: to gain a victim’s trust in order to get them to send their personal information or money through a wire transfer, credit card, gift card, or other means.

Let us share several key tips for Florida seniors and their loved ones to use to protect themselves this February and throughout the year:

1. Never reveal your personal information online to someone you have never actually met.

2. Never send money via credit card, wire-transfer or pre-paid money card. Never provide information to any personal financial account.

3. Never completely trust what someone tells you online if you have never met them in real life.

4. Talk to family members, friends, a caregiver, or neighbors about any misgivings you might have regarding an online relationship.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online romance scam, do not wait to contact the authorities to help you. Further, remember that avoiding scams is just the first step to ensuring that you are protected at all times. You need to ensure that you and the Florida seniors you care about always have an up-to-date estate plan in place. This way, no matter what the circumstances are, you have a trusted loved one who is able to act with legal authority should it be necessary. Do not wait to contact our office now, or any time in the future, to schedule a meeting to ask your questions.