Sweetheart Scams: Have you met someone new? Don't give them money!

Authored by:  Senior Legal Helpline of Bay Area Legal Services

  Romance or “Sweetheart” scams are one of the most common fraudulent schemes

  • Florida is among the states with the most victims
  • February, especially around Valentine’s Day, is the most vulnerable time of the year
  • Seniors are the age-group most often targeted by scammers
  • Seniors are more trusting of strangers and more likely to help people in trouble
  • Many seniors have lost a spouse or partner and are looking for companionship
  • Seniors have accumulated a lifetime of savings and often own homes and other property

  Could you become a target?

  • You meet someone new
  • In person at the gym, church, the store, the library, a waiting room
  • Online on Facebook, on Messenger, or a dating website
  • Your new friend spends lots of time speaking to you, sending lots of emails or texts
  • Many times your new friend lives or works outside the U.S., so they can’t meet in person
  • The relationship develops very quickly
  • You make an emotional connection; you are not so alone any more
  • Then suddenly your new friend needs money or help from you to solve a crisis
  • Family situation? Medical emergency? Business opportunity? Government problem?
  • Travel expenses? Lost wallet? Asks you to deposit a check into your account or cash a check for them?
  • It may start with a small favor but your new friend keep making more requests

   This new friend may be tricking you!

  • They may not be who they say they are; scammers use fake photos, create false identities, even make up locations
    • They go to great lengths to invent a profile that appeals especially to you
    • They may say they own property near you, convince you they know your friends, work in your same industry, have similar interests, belong to the same clubs, be looking for a life partner just like you
    • They read and study your personal information on social media or the Internet or “sucker lists"
  • This person could be a criminal who is trying to steal your money along with your self confidence

  Protect yourself

  • Don’t give out your credit card information or bank account number; don’t do wire transfers
  • Don’t transfer property or cars to your new friend or add their names to titles or deeds
  • Don’t buy them costly items or borrow against your home or retirement account to help your new friend
  • Don’t buy gift cards or iTunes cards to send
  • Don’t send revealing photos or intimate videotapes of yourself to your new friend

  If you’ve been a victim, take action to regain your power

  • Contact local law enforcement
    • Also call the Florida Attorney General Fraud Helpline 866-966-7226
    • File an Internet Crime Complaint with the FBI at www.ic3.gov
    • You may help an investigator build a case to stop others from getting scammed or defrauded
  • Get a 2nd opinion: consult people you trust if you are suspicious or concerned
    • Consider speaking with your financial advisor, accountant, attorney, clergyperson, and/or close friends and family

Get free legal advice and referrals

  • Call the Florida Senior Legal Helpline at 1-888-895-7873

Last reviewed and updated:  January 30, 2019.

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