By Rita Cheng
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Valentine’s Day is full of love, chocolates and flowers. Unfortunately, some con artists prey on the desire for companionship that many single individuals feel this time of year — stealing not only their victims’ hearts, but their money.
These “sweetheart scams” can happen on the internet or in person. A criminal seduces a victim, and once the relationship is established, the criminal fabricates a reason to ask for the victim’s money. A scammer might say he or she needs an operation or cash to visit the victim.
A sweetheart scam hit close to home for me: My mom was a victim of one. I bought her an iPhone after my dad died in early 2015, hoping it would help her stay connected when she visited friends and family. She ended up meeting people online who were not who they said they were. Eventually, a social worker called to inform me. It was one of the worst calls I’ve ever received.
Here are a few ways you can protect your loved ones from this scam.
Help the seniors in your life help themselves. Warn them against inviting others into their home, offering personal information, and giving out money online or through a wire-transfer service.
Keep in touch
Talk to your parents and grandparents about their lives. You may feel like you’re prying, but if your grandparent mentions a new online girlfriend, ask follow-up questions. Who is the person? What does your grandparent know about her, and where does she live? If your grandparent mentions that the girlfriend needs money, intervene.
Do some research
Look up your family member’s online love interest. If your parent mentions that his or her online boyfriend is a firefighter in New York, Google him or search social media for evidence to back this up.
Encourage face-to-face activities
Enroll your loved one in social gatherings at a trusted facility. This may help keep loneliness at bay. Many senior gatherings and even single senior organizations are available, and sites such as Eldercare Locator can point you in the right direction.
Hire a financial advisor
A financial advisor can help keep an eye out for suspicious activity, such as unusual requests for stock or bond sales and fax requests for wire transfers. He or she can also educate clients on elder financial abuse, scams and money management. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards has a wonderful resource for seniors interested in protecting themselves from unscrupulous and fraudulent activities.
Your parents or grandparents might think you’re meddling, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. With financial exploitation, the old phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true.
If you’re unsure whether your loved one is a victim of financial abuse, visit the National Adult Protective Services Association’s website. It has a list of warning signs and tips about what to do if you suspect a scam.
And if you’re the one nursing a broken heart, know that dating can still be fun as long as you stay safe. Take your time and slowly re-enter the dating scene. If someone seems too good to be true, it generally means he or she is. You deserve to be with someone who loves you for you, not for what can be gotten out of you.