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What is the Sweetheart Scam

The Sweetheart Scam is one of the most widely exploited scams out there. It’s a scheme that can be executed in person or online, with scammers preying upon a victim for financial gain. The perpetrator convinces their victim they are in love and then plays these emotions against them to swindle money from the unsuspecting person—oftentimes a lonely senior.

How The Sweetheart Scam Works

To defend yourself and others, it’s important to understand how the sweetheart scam works. Love, or the deceitful illusion of love, is a vital factor in executing the sweetheart scam.

Romance scammers create phony profiles on dating sites or contact their targets through social media. They then create a relationship with their targets to build trust - sometimes even talking or chatting several times each day. Eventually the scammer comes up with a story about how he/she has a major problem in their life which requires money. The victim, empathetically trying to help their new-found love, ends up sending money (sometimes repeatedly) to this person.

In 2019, people reported losing $201 million to romance scams. People reported losing more money to romance scams in the past two years than to any other fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. So how do you protect yourself?

10 Tips for Spotting and Avoiding Scams

Anyone can be scammed by a pseudo-sweetheart. But, according to law enforcement authorities (as shared by agingcare.com), there are steps one can take to avoid falling victim to a sweetheart scam.

  1. Be on your guard. Try to look beyond the superficial. Whether you are interacting with people online or in person at a senior center, restaurant, grocery store or the post office, make a point of keeping your wits about you. Unfortunately, deception comes in all shapes and sizes and takes place in a variety of settings.
  2. Be honest with yourself. Look in the mirror and ask yourself the million-dollar question: “Why would a much younger individual want anything to do with me?” What is this person getting out of a relationship with you? If you discover anything pertaining to money in your answer, you know you are headed for trouble.
  3. Never transfer or wire money to anyone. This is especially important if you’re communicating with a stranger living overseas whom you’ve never met in person.
  4. Keep in touch with family. Share your new social interests and friendships with them. Your loved ones usually have your best interest in mind and can be trusted to provide honest advice and guidance.
  5. Consult a professional if an online relationship seems fishy. Law enforcement agents are experienced with sweetheart scams, especially since the usage of social media has increased. If you have an inkling that something isn’t quite right with a new acquaintance, contact a professional for a second opinion.
  6. Do your homework. Nowadays, many people have left permanent digital footprints that even minimally tech-savvy individuals can find. Use Google to search for additional information on new individuals you meet and cross check the information they’ve told you about themselves. Even if things appear to match up, don’t assume they’re telling you the truth. Scammers often go to great lengths to pose as another person or create a believable online presence that backs up their phony story.
  7. Limit your use of social media. Scammers steal personal information online and utilize people’s social media profiles to learn more about them, their routines, vulnerabilities, likes and dislikes. They then use this information to tailor their manipulative approach to appeal to a person’s specific interests and weaknesses. Some scammers even monitor potential victims’ news feeds for information on friends and relatives they can pose as.
  8. Pursue relationships face-to-face. Avoid online dating if at all possible.
  9. Don’t feel ashamed. Although getting defrauded is embarrassing, understand that seasoned scammers have learned how to be very convincing so they can make a good living from deceiving people. If you or someone you know falls victim to a scam, report it as soon as possible to local law enforcement or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) website.
  10. Use common sense. This goes for any interactions with strangers, both online and in person. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Read the full article by Patricia Joyce on the Sweetheart Scam and be sure to implement these 10 tips to protect your information, your assets, and your heart.

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