Sage Advice: Tips for Seniors to Avoid Online Romance Fraud

by: Jeff H | in Fraud, Helpful Tips, Sage Advice, Wellness

Seniors are often the victim of online romance fraud

Welcome to “Sage Advice” our regular advice column about Senior Finances and Retirement. Each week we will try to answer questions from seniors about a variety of topics related to retirement and finance. If you’d like to submit a question, please click here [form] or send an email to

Question: Some of my friends have found new relationships via online dating and social media sites and they are trying to encourage me to join as well. I am a little leery of signing up because I have heard about online romance fraud that targets seniors looking for companionship.

Is there any way to be sure that I don’t become a victim to one of these scammers?

–   Mary-Ellen in PA, 68.

Sage Advice: Online schemes and fraud are serious problems for seniors. In fact, the FBI has warned that Seniors are racking up more than 3 Billion in losses annually to scammers. And the problem is continuing to grow. As a group, Seniors and retirees are often targeted because they tend to be trusting and polite. They also usually have the types of things that scammers like – financial savings, good credit, property ownership, etc. 

The most devious, and unfortunately, the most common type of fraud perpetrated on seniors is romance or companion fraud. Criminals use social media or dating websites to pose as interested partners and capitalize on their elderly victims’ desire to find companionship.

Below are a few ways that you can protect yourself and avoid falling victim to romance fraud:

Tips to Avoid Romance Fraud

  • Never offer to give money, gift cards, or financial assistance: Avoid sending anything financial to an online friend or romantic partner if you don’t have a long-standing, trusted relationship with them. Scammers prey on your good nature and may ask for things like help with vet bills, bailing kids out of trouble, unexpected medical expenses, or money for travel to see you in person!
  • Don’t accept money from anyone online: Be sure you don’t accept money from anyone online. It may be positioned as a gift, or to help cash a check, or maybe to hold onto money so an ex can’t get it. It may even be a deposit on a larger payment later. You may think, “what is the harm if they are giving me the money?” and your instinct may be to want to help out your new friend. But these are common tactics that scammers use to get you to lower your guard. They may be looking to get access to your account information or to use you to help them launder money, or to simply gain your trust for a bigger ask from them later. The old adage “Beware of strangers bearing gifts” is more true online than ever before.
  • Be wary of anyone who asks you to exchange currency, particularly into cryptocurrency: Be particularly wary about people asking you to change money into cryptocurrencies. Once converted to crypto it is largely unregulated, unprotected, and uninsured. This makes it a favorite vehicle for scammers because it is easier to get away and virtually impossible to recover.
  • Be leery of any investment that you don’t understand (particularly if it involves cryptocurrency): Many seniors have heard of cryptocurrency and have seen news reports on the outrageous profits some have earned by investing in it. It may seem like a gold rush [link to other blog] and scammers will prey on this by creating false cryptocurrencies, and false exchanges and accounts. They may also be running a Ponzi scheme to make the investments seem more legitimate and to keep you invested for longer.

    Relationship scammers will often ask for money so they can take advantage of a “sure-thing” investment (in crypto, stocks, or even a sports betting tip). Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Bank relationally:  Banks that know your name and habits can step in if they seem out of character for you or if they sense someone may be taking advantage of you. They can serve as a safeguard and intervene if they see you making unusual or risky decisions.
  • Don’t be ashamed to ask for help: A lot of seniors feel embarrassed when they think they have made a mistake online. Don’t be afraid to ask someone who is more experienced, or turn to someone like your Sagewell Retirement Advocate if your family isn’t an option.
  • Be on the lookout for typos: Scammers will often have typos in their texts and emails. Also, look carefully at any email address they might use. Scammers try to make them look like they come from legitimate organizations or companies, but there may be some inconsistencies when you compare them to the real website.
  • Call back to confirm: If a bank or credit card company calls asking for you to “confirm your account information” be on high alert. You can always look up the banks real phone number (on the web, or from a piece of letterhead) and call back to confirm it is really your bank. Scammers are great at imitating real banks and getting you to give them your personal and account information.
  • Finally, never share your banking passwords with anyone online, no matter how good they make you feel. And while you’re thinking about passwords, go back and make sure that you are using strong, unique passwords and not just recycling one on several accounts because it’s easy to remember.

Have You Been the Victim of Romance Fraud?

If you think you – or someone you know – may have been a victim of fraud, there are a few steps you should take:

1) Contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

2) When reporting a scam—regardless of dollar amount—please try to include as many of the following details as possible to help the authorities.

  • Any names the scammer and/or company used
  • Dates of contact
  • How you communicated (email, chat, cell phone, messenger)
  • Any phone numbers, email addresses, mailing addresses, and websites used by the perpetrator
  • What methods of payment you used (wire, cryptocurrency, debit or credit card)
  • Where you sent funds, including wire transfers and prepaid cards (provide any financial institution names, account names, and account numbers)
  • Descriptions of your interactions with the scammer and the instructions you were given

3) Keep any original documentation you have from the fraudsters including emails, faxes, and logs of all communications.

Take a virtual bank tour today!

contact lady

Take a virtual bank tour today!

Our financial care experts have saved seniors hundreds per month with just one 15-minute call.

here to help
Please enter a valid phone number