HughPickens.com writes: The NYT reports: "Janet N. Cook, a church secretary in Virginia, had been a widow for a decade when she joined an Internet dating site and was quickly overcome by a rush of emails, phone calls and plans for a face-to-face visit. "I'm not stupid, but I was totally naïve," says Cook, now 76, who was swept off her feet by a man who called himself Kelvin Wells and described himself as a middle-aged German businessman looking for someone "confident" and "outspoken" to travel with him to places like Italy, his "dream destination." But very soon he began describing various troubles, including being hospitalized in Ghana, where he had gone on business, and asked Cook to bail him out. In all, she sent him nearly $300,000, as he apparently followed a well-honed script that online criminals use to bilk members of dating sites out of tens of millions of dollars a year."
According to the Times internet scammers are targeting women in their 50s and 60s, often retired and living alone, who say that the email and phone wooing forms a bond that may not be physical but that is intense and enveloping. Between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2014, nearly 6,000 people registered complaints of such confidence fraud with losses of $82.3 million, according to the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center. Older people are ideal targets because they often have accumulated savings over a lifetime, own their homes and are susceptible to being deceived by someone intent on fraud. The digital version of the romance con is now sufficiently widespread that AARP's Fraud Watch Network has urged online dating sites to institute more safeguards to protect against such fraud. The AARP network recommends that dating site members use Google's "search by image" to see if the suitor's picture appears on other sites with different names. If an email from "a potential suitor seems suspicious, cut and paste it into Google and see if the words pop up on any romance scam sites," the network advised. The website romancescams.org lists red flags to look for to identify such predators, who urgently appeal to victims for money to cover financial setbacks like unexpected fines, money lost to robbery or unpaid wages. Most victims say they are embarrassed to admit what happened, and they fear that revealing it will bring derision from their family and friends, who will question their judgment and even their ability to handle their own financial affairs."It makes me sound so stupid, but he would be calling me in the evening and at night. It felt so real. We had plans to go to the Bahamas and to Bermuda together," says Louise Brown. "When I found out it was a scam, I felt so betrayed. I kept it secret from my family for two years, but it's an awful thing to carry around. But later I sent him a message and said I forgave him."
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