EverSafe Scam Watch

Protecting Your Financial Health

In the Wake of Valentine’s Day: Watch out for Romance Scams

Too many adults are learning the hard way that Cupid’s arrow can be a weapon for fraud. A lonely heart and a full bank account can be a potentially dangerous combination, as a growing number of older adults are finding out, according to the New York Times.

Online scamsScammers have discovered that dating apps are an effective tool to find victims, a strategy that took off during the pandemic when so many people were socially isolated. In 2020, romance fraud captured $139 million from adults age 60 and older – a dramatic rise from $84 million in 2019, federal statistics show.

The typical romance scam begins when a lonely adult meets someone on a dating website. The victim may be enticed by their “suitor’s” profile on social media. They begin to communicate, and then gain their victim’s trust. Inevitably, the scammer makes up a story that they need money urgently. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the reason might be that they need it for a ticket to visit. They might claim an emergency health problem or some other desperate need.

Sadly, this kind of emotional manipulation can be terribly effective. In one recent case, federal officials accused a Florida woman of swindling an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor out of his life savings of more than $2.8 million, using the money to buy herself a home, condominium, boat and cars. In another case, a 69-year-old woman from Pennsylvania accepted a friend request on Facebook from a stranger who described himself as a Norwegian doctor. She ended up giving him (and two other scammers who said they were his children) $39,000 in gift cards, leaving herself destitute.

Romance scammers target adults of all ages. But they are also a form of elder fraud, because older individuals often have the biggest nest eggs. FTC statistics show that people age 70 and above typically lost $9,000 to this fraud in 2021; among individuals age 18 to 29, the typical cost was $750.

“When older adults lose money, they lose more money – because they have more money to lose,” Amy Nofziger, AARP’s director of fraud victim support, told the New York Times.

Federal Officials Warn Consumers about “Dark Patterns”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cautioning the public about shady business practices that trick consumers into making purchases they don’t need and revealing personal data they should withhold. Officials describe these practices as “dark patterns,” which are becoming increasingly common in a world of digital communication.

Dark-pattern tactics highlighted in an FTC report include barriers for consumers to cancel charges, hidden fees, concealing terms of purchase, and presenting advertisements as objective content. Such tactics have “grown in scale and sophistication” as more commerce has moved online, according to the FTC.

Photo of stressed womanThe report, Bringing Dark Patterns to Light, noted that such practices may be found in children’s apps and subscription sales, among other places. Here are four of the most common dark patterns:

Fooling consumers with misleading content. Companies use various means to make information look trustworthy when it is not. Advertisements are created to appear as independent editorial content. Comparison shopping sites may seem to offer factual information that is actually biased. Companies may use “countdown timers” that fool people into thinking they are running out of time to buy the product. In one FTC case, schemers sent emails to consumers that looked like they had been sent from CNN and Fox News.

Making it difficult to cancel subscriptions and other charges. Companies can make it difficult to cancel charges and end “free trials,” or they may improperly renew your subscription without proper disclosure. In one dark-pattern scheme, consumers were sent on a bewildering online path, forcing them to click through multiple pages of a website, which then tried to steer them away from the cancellation page.

Burying important terms and hidden fees. Information such as limitations of a product or service may be carefully concealed. Similarly, junk fees and mandatory charges that drive up the price may be hidden until you get the bill. An online lender promised applicants that they would get a loan of a specific amount, and failed to disclose other fees. These hidden amounts reduced the funds received through the loan by hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

Tricking consumers into providing personal data – and then sharing it. In its report, the FTC warns that unscrupulous vendors may seem to give consumers choices about privacy settings, conveying a false sense that their privacy is protected. But the privacy settings may be misleading. In one example, a company’s default privacy settings allowed it to share personal television viewing data with third parties. Yet it was difficult for consumers to understand this in advance.

AARP: Top Scams to Avoid in 2023

Scammers are always adapting and applying new technology to age-old frauds. Here are five of the top scams that fraud experts are monitoring as 2023 unfolds, according to AARP:

  • Cryptocurrency with a touch of romance. We’re already featured the romance scam in this report, but AARP points out a new twist: These scammers are persuading their victims to download apps that enable them to send payments via cryptocurrency. These payments can be impossible to recover.
  • Getting around two-factor authentication. It’s usually a good idea to safeguard your data by requiring two forms of identification to gain access. But scammers are navigating this barrier with the help of automated programs known as “bots,” which appear to be texts or robocalls from your bank – to give a prominent example. The bots ask targets to authorize a charge and to reveal their two-factor authentication. (One such factor may be the real code sent by your bank when you ask to log into your account.) If scammers get this information, they may break into your bank account. Never provide such information in response to a request that comes out of the blue.
  • QR code scams. Scammers are finding new ways to exploit that machine-scannable image we are using more and more. In one such scam, crooks tamper with a real QR code or replace it with their own, and innocent victims may be directed to a malicious website that steals personal data. In another, scammers may send you a phony QR code, perhaps with the promise of a free gift. This is just another ruse to gain your confidential information.
  • Student loan forgiveness scam. The White House proposal to forgive student loans is currently tied up in litigation that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. But not everyone knows that. Scammers have been busy setting up fake application sites that are designed to capture personal data such as Social Security numbers and bank accounts.
  • Fake payday loans. In this fraud, the criminal offers hard-pressed consumers a loan to help them stay afloat financially. Just one catch: Applicants have to pay a fee upfront. Once that happens, the crook makes a profit and the promised loan vanishes.