Cautionary Tale: A Romance Scam Can Fool Your Lonely Aging Parent

Lonely senior (LS), after a failed marriage, had not dated much for several years. She finally decided to try a dating app for older people. She’s attractive, professional, still working and very smart. She had not had much experience with dating apps but was glad to get on and find what looked interesting.

LS started to get attention from a man who told her she was beautiful. It was flattering to receive these comments. She felt enlivened by them. He began to text her every day, telling her what he was doing and how much he thought they had in common. She enjoyed the comments and his relating his activities to her. He was traveling, he said, visiting family in France.

LS was wise enough to begin to question the daily attention from someone she had never actually met nor seen in person, except from a photo he texted her. She said it seemed too good to be true. She asked a friend to look at the texts and give her an opinion about them. The friend immediately saw suspicious discrepancies in the words the man was sending. Things were a little “off”. The friend asked her to tell the guy to please send a photo of his purported visit in France where he said he was visiting his mother. “I’d love to see a picture of you and your mom” she texted back. Of course, no photo was sent. This was a turning point: no confirmation of what he claimed he was doing. The mark of a scammer.


LS’s friend was objective and helped LS cut it off before things developed any further. There were several warning signs in her case, of how the romance scammers work. Here are some of those red flag signs, for anyone, not just your aging parents.

Warning Signs To Look For

1. There is no photo of the person on the dating app. That is an early red flag. If it’s a real person, they will not hesitate to post a photo on the app. But, photos can be hacked. And scammers know how to do this effectively. They can post someone else’s photo rather easily. They just text it to the target. This is just one thing to look for.


2. The scammer, who can pose as either a man or woman, begins to shower daily attention on the target they’ve found. The target responds to the attention. The scammer encourages them to get off the dating app and says they just want to focus on one relationship at a time—with the target.

3. The scammer claims to be traveling, in another country, or not available in person locally just now, but will be later.

4. The person refuses to provide a full name so that the target can check them out on social media. This is a big red flag. Anyone can pose as anything on a dating app but it would be hard to explain no social media nor internet presence when the app itself shows they use the internet. They make excuses: my Facebook account got hacked, I don’t like social media, etc.

5. The scammer will not do a video call, Facetime, or other face-to-face meeting. They make excuses, such as my phone is not working except for texting, or they just ignore the request and keep texting the target with flattering commentary.

6. The scammer has sized up the target’s values from the dating app, and continues to text the target, mentioning these values repeatedly in their messaging to the target. They can include family, God, loyalty, monogamy, or anything the target has said they’re looking for in their own profile on the dating app. Look for repeat references to these values in the scammer’s texts.


Professional thieves work at establishing a trusting relationship over time with the target. Daily attention is cleverly crafted to get the target to want continued contact. Eventually, they will ask for personal information so as to access bank accounts, steal an identity or straight out ask for money. It is something like “grooming” that takes place when predators gradually gain the trust of a child so they can exploit them.

Intelligence and Education Are No Protection

No matter how smart, educated, wealthy, or sophisticated your aging parent may be, remember that loneliness is a vulnerability that reason does not necessarily overcome. LS got wise because she had recently been victim of a scammer when she was searching for a dog to fill her life after her beloved pooch had died. She lost a few thousand dollars to that scammer but at least now had an idea that her own sadness at losing her dog had made her fall for a fake dog breeder site. Her antenna was up. She asked a friend for an opinion about the messages. Your own aging parent may not be so aware.

The Takeaways:

1. If your aging parent chooses to get on a dating app, help them understand that good people are there and scammers are too. Scammers victimize people by their emotional need for company, which we all have in some way.

2. Ask if your aging loved one will let you look over any “prospects” for dating that seem interesting to them. If feasible, make it fun to look together. You can be more objective in spotting the red flags, outlined above. Encourage them to block any suspicious characters.

3. Encourage your aging parent or other loved one to report anyone to the dating app whose communication seem highly suspicious, such as no photo, refusing to have a face-to-face meeting by video or phone, and avoiding giving a real time photo on request.

Here at, where we consult with families of aging parents, we hear repeated sad stories about how someone got ripped off by these romance scams. In every case, the victim was looking for company and romance, lonely without it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars can get taken by a single scammer. For those with lonely, needy aging loved ones who are using the internet and dating apps, be careful for them. You can make a difference.


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