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Do you look forward to Valentine’s Day as a wonderful opportunity to express love and affection, and to show family and friends how much you care about them? Unfortunately, online scammers also look forward to Valentine’s Day as a time to take advantage of people, including many aging seniors who are lonely and isolated and on the internet. Did you know Florida seniors are prime targets for cyber criminals due to the elevated likelihood that they have access to money, are less tech-savvy than younger adults, and suffer higher incidences of loneliness and social isolation?

These so-called romance scams, or “lonely heart” scams, are cause for alarm. According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams stole more than $304 million from Americans in 2020. Whether you are one of the Florida seniors who are prime targets for cyber criminals or a loved one, let us share a few key tips about how seniors can protect themselves this Valentine’s Day.

1. Spotting a romance scam. Individuals who know Florida seniors are prime targets for cyber criminals often present themselves as genuine love and companionship possibilities, then pivot to what they are really after once an emotional connection has been made. Senior victims are typically lured into buying gifts, sharing personal information that can be exploited by identity thieves, and sending money through credit cards or financial institutions. As a major precaution, make sure to talk to friends, family, and caregivers about any new online relationship and pay attention if they are concerned.

2. Never send money to a romantic interest you have not met in person. If a new social media or message board love interest asks you to send money, personal information, or data to access your bank account, do not do it. No matter how tempting, it is important to break off all communication immediately. This is just one of the ways Florida seniors are prime targets for cyber criminals. Do not offer to accept money either, as it may be another way of gaining access to your financial accounts, or an illegal money laundering trap.

3. Fake websites and online greeting cards with bad intentions. If you spot a nice floral arrangement pop-up ad, get a thoughtful e-card from an odd acquaintance or stranger, or any other online gift, be extremely cautious. Look for telltale signs of fraud before clicking on any buttons. There are numerous fake websites and advertising scams out there that look real to the untrained eye, but are in fact fraudulent. Further:

• Be wary of websites and offers that do not accept common payment providers like Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal.

• If you are going to buy something, stick to reputable websites that you already know.

• Avoid online greeting cards from unknown sources as they could be infected with malware.

• Google a curious website or ad’s name + “scam” or “complaint” and see what pops up.

Never forget that Florida seniors are prime targets for cyber criminals and be on guard at all times. If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online romance scam, do not wait to contact law enforcement.

Most importantly, make sure you have picked an advocate who has the legal authority to act for you in a crisis. Your agent under your Florida durable power of attorney will be able to monitor your identity and accounts when you cannot to ensure that you do not fall victim to a scam like this. We encourage you not to wait to ask us your elder law questions on this or any important issue facing Florida seniors today.

At Britton G. Swank, P.A., our mission is to guide you in the right direction to help you provide for yourself and your loved ones no matter what the future holds. We want to help you control the assets you have, leave them to people and causes you care about, when you want, in the way you want. We can help you take care of yourself and those you love in the event of disability due to illness, injury or old age. No matter what risks unfold, we can help give you the comfort of knowing you are prepared. We want you to feel good about your future and the future of your loved ones. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting.