Even though February and Valentine’s Day is over, the threat against Alabama seniors continues to be on the rise. In fact, did you know that scammers and cyber criminals often target senior citizens when perpetrating financial crimes? Online senior scams have become so prevalent that they are considered “the crime of the 21st century.” 

Why?  There are several different factors. Older Americans are believed to be more vulnerable, are known to often have large amounts of money in accessible accounts, and the internet makes it easy for bad actors to find them, and fool them. To make matters worse, scammers tend to target seniors when they are most vulnerable. Valentine’s Day demonstrated to us, again, just how aging adults suffering from loneliness and social isolation are at elevated risk. 

How can you protect yourself as a senior? Or a senior that you love? Let us share nine tips you may use to avoid a “lonely heart” senior scam.

1. Online cyber criminals looking to execute romance scams are likely looking for older victims on social media, online dating or friendship websites. Be cautious of anyone you do not know who contacts you online. What you see may not be who you are really dealing with.

2. Here is a golden rule: Seniors should always be suspicious whenever someone online attempts to gain their trust and affection if they have not met in-person. 

3. Older Americans, or anyone for that matter, should never provide their personal information or send money to someone who tries to convince them to do so on social media, email or any other online forum if they do not already know them in their off-line lives.

4. Be extremely cautious if someone you meet on social media, like Facebook, wants to quickly move to a private form of communication such as text or email.

5. Never send intimate photos or videos of yourself. A scammer may use them to try to blackmail or embarrass you.

6. If you do plan to meet someone you met online, which is generally not a good idea, then make sure to tell your family, friends, and caregiver. Bring someone with you and meet the person in a public place.

7. Scammers often work on several victims at once. If they address you by the wrong name, it may be a telling sign that something is wrong.

8. If you think you are in contact with a potential scammer, tell family, friends, caregivers and neighbors immediately about your experience. Do not let embarrassment get in the way of protecting yourself.

9. If you believe you have fallen victim to a Valentine’s Day romance scam, it is never too late to call the police and your appropriate financial institution. Let them know what happened so they may get involved and protect you. 

We know this blog may raise more questions than it answers. We want you not to wait to learn more about this critical issue facing all of us, but most importantly Alabama seniors. Remember, being prepared is the best defense you can have in place. We encourage you to schedule a meeting with an estate planning and elder law planning attorney so you may create the tools that can protect you now, and in the years to come.