The Philippine National Police reminded the public recently to be cautious about several cybercrimes, including a scheme called “love scam.”
A love scam is where criminals use fictitious or stolen identity accounts to build romantic relationships with vulnerable social media users, usually seniors. These scammers later ask for money or ask their victims to invest in cryptocurrency.
These scams do not only hurt the wallet, they hurt the heart. This is what makes the love scam such an insidious crime. Falling prey to it brings about intense shame and embarrassment and most people choose to not file a police report, which the scammers are banking on.
Ideally, our government—either through legislation or law enforcement—should be protecting us from crimes. A crime is a crime. Scams, however, bring about a lot of victim blaming as there is judgment toward such victims for not having the wit and smarts to avoid these scams. Our government should be investing heavily in cybersecurity and protecting our data privacy and yet we know, through recent multiple hacking of government websites including the biggest one from Philippine Health Insurance Corp., that the government has not invested in protecting our information and expect citizens to actively file complaints instead of demanding accountability from websites and companies that play fast and loose with our information.
While government is working on getting ahead of these crimes, how do we arm our senior citizens against cybercrimes like the love scam?
First, we need to understand why they are vulnerable to such schemes. We do not have socially acceptable outlets for senior citizens to enter and enjoy romantic relationships. This reminds me of a colleague who was widowed quite young yet fully accepted a permanent state of no-dating simply because her adult married kids would not allow it. There is this misconception that older persons no longer need romantic relationships or companions. Especially if they have family, the expectation is that they would fully focus on their children and grandchildren.
Because there is great stigma against dating in our later years, a significant number would keep their dating efforts and experiences secret from their friends and family. This veil of secrecy, perpetuated by social stigma, is what allows scammers to come in and do their crime unimpeded. In other countries, dating in later life is much more acceptable. As such, grandma brings her boyfriend to family gatherings to meet the family. Grandpa goes on trips with his girlfriend and with pride shares these pictures to friends. Allowing senior citizens to date openly will naturally create vetting processes that keep them safe.
Second, senior citizens are not as likely to have been given cybersafety education. The rapid development of technology leads to increasingly creative ways to commit crime online. It is not easy to keep up with technology in general; it is much harder for senior citizens who do not have access to formal education on cybersafety. The emerging era of artificial intelligence has further made it difficult to discern real from fake. Upon checking my grandfather’s TV, I saw to my horror that his YouTube account had been supplying him with fake extremist videos. He thought that YouTube was similar to national news and didn’t realize that the videos could be disseminating false information or that the algorithm encouraged rage-baiting. He simply trusted that the information given to him were true. In this day and age of unregulated information, this trust can make us vulnerable.
Here are some red flags when dating online that everyone, young or old, should keep in mind:
Everyone has a digital trace nowadays. This means you can check and vet their family and friends online. Especially if they are also in the same country, you should have mutual contacts. If a profile or account does not have a digital trace, meaning you cannot seem to corroborate their information or identity, it is most likely a scam. If they refuse to open their video or always have a reason for why their videos aren’t working, this is a scam.
Next, real love does not ask for money. Unless you are already married, avoid lending or giving money to your partners. You are both adults; your partner can solve their own financial challenges. The moment your online lover asks for money, this is most likely a scam.
We are a country that provides senior citizens with a lot of benefits and services. We can make use of senior citizen centers to provide them with classes that help them keep safe from online fraud and theft. The same centers can provide a range of social activities that allows senior citizens a safe space to find a romantic partner instead of feeling that engaging in social media in secret is the only option for them.