By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
Deals that are often too good to be true are often known as “sweetheart deals.” The price is hard to believe in exchange for the desired goods or services. There is another form of “sweetheart” deals, or rather scams, that are preying upon residents in greater frequency, particularly the elderly populations. We have seen the number of calls to the Consumer Protection Division increase in recent months.
The scam works like this: An individual posts a message on a social media site looking for companionship. The posts are made in the usual social hangouts where singles meet and the scammers hide in plain sight, appearing to be legitimate people looking for love and friendship. Frequently the victims are individuals who recently lost a spouse and are looking to find someone new to fill the emptiness left behind.
After making the connection with a new object of one’s affection, the scammer may tell the victim that they prefer to text or email instead of using dating applications, but promises of a face-to-face meeting keep getting put off. The love interest is overseas for business or in the military, or they are afraid to travel and want to maintain proper social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The relationships move quickly and soon the scammer starts testing the trust of their victim. The new love interest needs money to help with bills or medical expenses. The amounts start small to build trust in cash transactions, which are difficult to track exactly how much is being sent. In other cases, victims are asked to purchase iPhones and ship them to the scammer.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than $200 million was lost in online romance scams, an increase of six fold since 2015. The Consumer Protection Division in our office has also seem this scam on the increase. We have learned that often family members are unaware their parents have been left penniless after being scammed in a relationship until it’s too late. However, there are simple steps to take to protect yourself from being the next victim:
- Slow down and stop communicating with the scammer. Talk to someone you trust about the relationship and don’t let the scammer rush you.
- Search online for the particular job the person says they have. See if others have heard of similar stories or scams.
- Never transfer money from your bank account, buy gift cards, phone or wire money to an online love interest. You won’t get it back.
- Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve sent money to a scammer.
- Report the incident to our Consumer Protection Division. We work closely with the Kansas Department for Children and Families and Adult Protective Services. When appropriate, representatives will meet face-to-face with victims to get the scam stopped.
During my service as attorney general, we have made justice for seniors a priority by targeting elder abuse, consumer fraud and related issues.
More information on how to protect yourself from these and other scams is available on our consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org or by calling our consumer protection hotline at (800) 432-2310.