Social media is more than just a way to network and connect with family and friends. It can also be filled with predators hiding behind a phone or computer screen and preying on the vulnerable. Young children aren’t the only ones who are at risk of running into predators. Elderly adults can be targeted online. Adult children and family members should keep a close eye on their older relatives who are on social media and at risk of romance scams.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 19,800 people in the United States lost a combined $735,000,000 in romance scams in 2022. It’s believed that many victims, however, never report the crime. Elena Whitaker’s mom, who asked to not being identified, is a romance scam victim.

“He was basically manipulating [my mother] by saying he was all she needed,” Whitaker said.

She hopes that sharing what their family went through can prevent more victims from losing money. 

How it Started

The FBI says scammers make you believe that they are romantically interested in you as a way to eventually try and manipulate you. Whitaker says for her mom, it all started with a simple message regarding her social media profile picture. That’s when he wanted to get more acquainted with the victim.

“He asked my mother where she was from and was she essentially single,” Whitaker said.

Later, he started making promises that would never be fulfilled.

“There were promises to take care of my mom and make her his wife,” Whittaker said.

Asking for Money

After about a month, the scam artist began to ask for money. Whitaker described one instance where he claimed he ran into a problem and needed money to buy items at a grocery store in Dubai where he said he lived. 

“[He] needed her to send him a few dollars to check out until he got home to check his bank account to see what was going on,” Whitaker said.

Eventually, the scammer became comfortable enough to ask when the victim received money every month.

“Each [pay] period he would ask for gift cards to be sent to him to help with things he needed. In return, he was going to send her a check for a large amount of money,” Whitaker explained.

How it Ended

Family members began to notice a change in how Whitaker’s mom was behaving. While Whitaker’s mom was speaking to him via a messenger app, family members began asking some of the necessary questions.

“We all started probing about who he was, where he lived and what he did for a living,” Whitaker said.

Once they determined that this was the work of a scammer, the family cut off all communication between the two, but never reported it to law enforcement. 

“My family blocked him on social media outlets. We had to change her phone number and bank account information because she’d shared those details with him. She lost over a thousand dollars,” reveals Whitaker.

Whitaker says the scammer talked a good game and made the victim believe that he could take care of them. 

Red Flags

Whitaker believes her mother missed all of the tell-tell signs of the scam due to her age.

“My mom missed plenty of signs because she’s older, never [been] married and is looking for companionship,” says Whitaker.

The FBI has several tips on avoiding romance scams on social media. Be careful what you post online. Scammers can use that information to target you. Research the person’s picture and name to make sure that it is not being used anywhere else. Ask plenty of questions. If it seems too perfect, then it probably is. Beware of them asking for inappropriate pictures and money. If you haven’t met in-person, that’s a red flag. Also, never send money to someone you have only spoken to online or on the phone.