By Sheriff Bob Gualtieri
Online dating has become one of the most popular ways for singles to find partners. According to Statista, as of 2020, more than 32 million Americans are using online dating services, and the online dating service eharmony reports that there has been a 6% increase between 2013 and 2016 in 55 to 64-year-olds who use online dating.
Online romance is common today due to the prevalence of smartphone usage, and individuals are not always honest about their identities on the internet. Eharmony reported that 53% of people who use dating websites lie on their profiles. Although some of those lies may seem small, like their height or how much money they make, talking to or meeting strangers online can be dangerous.
One of the most common scams we see at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, especially among the elderly, is the romance scam. Predators can create fake identities to lure in victims to gain access to their finances or instigate sexually or physically abusive relationships. Once a relationship has been established online, the out-of-town suspect convinces the victim to wire money so the person can travel to visit them or help them with a dire personal emergency.
Fraud is a preventable crime if you know what to look for. Here’s how you can keep yourself from becoming a victim:
1.Never send money.
2.Carefully examine people’s profiles.
3.Use reverse image search on their pictures.
4.End the relationship if they refuse to meet you face to face.
5.If you do meet the person, pick a public place and let a friend or family member know where you are.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A loving relationship would never ask you to step beyond your personal boundaries financially or otherwise. If you are the victim of the romance scam, or any type of fraudulent scam, contact the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office at 727-582-6200.