Romance fraud is at an all-time high. AARP

Someone contacts you on social media and soon falls in love with you. They are attractive and successful.

Good, right?

You never meet them in person because they are out of the country, live abroad or are in the military.

They want to marry you.

Then they ask for money for some kind of emergency. You are in love, so you want to help.


Then they ask for more money. They want to open a joint account.


These are red flags for romance fraud, which cost Americans $1.3 billion over the five years ending in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI.

In Maine in 2021, scammers stole a total of $283,555 from unwitting victims, according to Grace McCarthy, a volunteer with the AARP Maine Fraud Watch Network Speakers Bureau.

“Statistics show that younger people fall prey more often to romance scams, BUT the dollars lost by seniors is considerably higher,” McCarthy wrote in an email interview.

Younger victims lost an average of $400, while seniors lost an average of more than $9,000, she said.


Romance scammers use fake names, and photographs and information obtained online, to create an identity. The wooing begins with what appears to be genuine interest, McCarthy said.

“Based on the information obtained from the victim (or online sources), the scammer creates a trusting, emotional relationship with the victim,” she said.

After a short time, they profess true love. And then they ask to “borrow” money from the victim.

The victim, who is oftentimes in a trusting, highly emotional state, is not thinking rationally and sends money to the scammer. Additional issues always arise and there are more requests for money, to be sent in a specific way (often cryptocurrency or gift cards).

“Some victims send all their savings, sell their houses or take out loans, ” McCarthy said, “because they are so emotionally involved with the scammer.”

A romance scam can also become a vehicle for money laundering, the sale of stolen items or investment fraud.


If you have fallen for this scam or suspect you are a victim, here is what to do, according to the AARP:

• Stop sending money and communicating with the person immediately.

• Talk to a family member or other trusted person and be open about all the facets of the relationship.

• Do an online search of the job this person claims to have with the word “scammer” added.

• Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture.

• Report suspicious profiles or messages to the dating app or social media platform.


• Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission, law enforcement and the AARP.

A similar scam, known as “affinity fraud,” occurs when a person pretends to share your beliefs, ethnicity or values, McCarthy said.

“For example, fraudsters might pretend to be a veteran, and then target veterans on the dating sites,” McCarthy said. “A ‘fellow veteran’ introduces an inherent level of trust and puts the would-be victim in greater danger. The U.S. Army has a website devoted to this very subject.”

Other scammers pretend to be of a certain religious background to establish an immediate bond.

Trained volunteers from the AARP Maine Fraud Watch Network Speakers Bureau are available to talk to groups of any size, said Jane Margesson, the communications director for AARP Maine. She manages the scam awareness and prevention work for the AARP in Maine.

The speakers are available in person or virtually, she said. The online request form is available at

Anyone (AARP member or not) can also attend the agency’s monthly Zoom meetings, held on the second Thursday of the month. The next meeting is scheduled for April 13. The planned topics are Social Security scams and grandparent scams.

“We want to stress that not all dating site participants or contacts via social media are fraudulent,” McCarthy said. “When looking for a relationship online, a person should hesitate and research before providing personal information or parting with their hard-earned money.”

Citing the AARP mantra, McCarthy added, “If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.”

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