LIFESTYLE

How to keep yourself safe from romance scams this Valentine’s Day

Feb 14, 2024, 1:19 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — When Kate Kleinart fell victim of a romance scam, what hurt the most wasn’t the thousands of dollars that she lost, but the love that she thought existed between her and the person who scammed her.

“Losing the love was worse than losing the money,” said Kleinart, 70, who lost tens of thousands to a romance scam over several months.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received over 64,000 romance scams reports that translated into $1.14 billion in reported losses.

Romance scams often target lonely and isolated individuals, according to Will Maxson, assistant director of the Division of Marketing Practices at the FTC.

What starts as a simple conversation turns into a sudden romantic connection. But a key giveaway is when a person asks for money because something happened in their lives and they need help. According to the FTC, common lies scammers employ include that they, or someone close to them, is sick, hurt or in jail. Another is, “I can teach you how to invest.”

If you want to protect yourself and your loved ones from a romance scam, here are some experts’ recommendations.

KNOW HOW TO SPOT A ROMANCE SCAM

From her personal experience, Kleinart recommends people be vigilant if a new Facebook friend is exceptionally good-looking, asks you to download WhatsApp to communicate, attempts to isolate you from friends and family, and/or gets romantic very quickly.

“If you’re seeing that picture of a very handsome person, ask someone younger in your life — a child, a grandchild, a niece or a nephew — to help you reverse-image search or identify the photo,” she said.

The man in pictures that Kleinart received was a plastic surgeon from Spain whose photos have been stolen and used by scammers.

Specifically for older people, romance scams are among the most common scams, said Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention at AARP.

“A lot of older adults are now going into the online dating world, they’re making a lot of online conversations, having a lot of dates, but that leads them to scammers who are then convincing them to give them money and send it overseas,” said Genevieve Waterman from the National Council on Aging. However, she noted people from all ages can fall for a romance scam.

HAVE CONSTANT CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SCAMS

One of the best ways to raise awareness about scams is to talk about them. Waterman recommends families talk about scams more often in their day-to-day lives.

“I love the idea of sitting around the table and talking about (scams) and making it more common,” Waterman said.

It’s a common practice for scammers to make victims feel like they need to act right away, which makes them more vulnerable to falling for a story that might not seem plausible if they weren’t under pressure. If you’re having a conversation about scams with your family members, it’s important to highlight that aspect of scam practices.

INFORM, DON’T IMPOSE

When you are navigating complicated conversations, it’s better to take an informative approach rather than an authoritative tone, especially with your older family members. Because your parents or grandparents have a lot of expertise in other life topics, if you approach a conversation by imposing your ideas, it might not have the best effect.

When Stokes has conversations with her mom about scams, she approaches the conversation by saying that she heard about a new type of scam and asks questions such as, “What do you think about this?” instead of using language like, “Hey mom, there’s this scam, don’t fall for it.”

Waterman also recommends that you have conversations as a family, including younger members, and make sure you make it clear that scams target everyone, regardless of age.

“It’s about staying vigilant together as a family unit and not to challenge that older adult but just to explain that (scams) are becoming more sophisticated,” Waterman said.

BE EMPATHETIC IF THEY FALL FOR A SCAM

If your family member has already lost money to a scam, Stokes recommends that you approach the conversation with a lot of empathy.

“We tend to blame the victim,” Stokes said. “When you are faced with another adult in your life who has experienced a scam loss, understand that it’s a crime.”

Stokes encourages people to think about scammers as organized groups with many resources, rather than a random person calling from their mom’s basement. Stokes says that people should think of these crimes like any others and therefore have empathy for the victims.

KNOW HOW TO REPORT A SCAM

If you or a family member is a victim of a scam, it’s good practice to report it. You can report a scam on the FTC’s website.

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A version of this story moved in August 2023. This story has been updated with new details and quotes.

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The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.”

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How to keep yourself safe from romance scams this Valentine’s Day