A Blog For and About Today's Seniors

by Sandra K. Sprague

Monday, March 15, 2010

Seniors and Online Dating

If your e-mail inbox is anything like mine, you have probably received at least one e-mail ad for an online dating service in the past month.
Aiming modern technology at the dating process is nothing new. (Remember my observation in my blog, "Seniors and Internet Safety", about sex being one of the first uses for every new technology?)

Online Dating in the 19th Century

In his book, "The Victorian Internet", Tom Standage describes an 1886 article in Electrical World entitled, "The Dangers of Wired Love". The article tells of a Brooklyn newsstand owner, George W. McCutcheon and his twenty-year-old daughter, Maggie, who assisted him at the newsstand. Business had become so brisk that Mr. McCutcheon installed a telegraph line to his store and Maggie became the operator. Maggie's father soon learned she was "keeping a flirtation" with several young men over the telegraph lines, including Frank Frisbie, a married telegraph operator for the Long Island Railroad. Maggie telegraphed Frank an invitation to visit her, which he accepted. Maggie's father found out and forbade the visit. Nonetheless, Maggie secretly started seeing Frank. Mr. McCutcheon dismissed his daughter from working at his newsstand, but she soon found another telegraph operator position and resumed her "online" relationship with Frisbie. The tale predictably ends with Mr. McCutcheon following Maggie to a rendezvous with Frisbie, where the father threatened to "blow her (Maggie's) brains out". Maggie had her father arrested and charged with "threatening behavior". (Does this story sound at all familiar to any parents of teenagers who participate on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking sites?)

There are Many Online Dating Sites for Seniors - And Just as Many Dangers

Because of the contextual content of many of my e-mails and computer searches, it is no surprise that I've received e-mail ads from a surprising number of online dating sites for seniors. I've received ads from "SeniorMeet.com", "AgeMatch.com", "SeniorDateFinder.com", and, from the same people who bring you Penthouse Magazine, "SeniorFriendFinder.com". There are at least 5-10 more mainstream online dating sites targeting seniors.
There are a lot of reasons so many online dating sites are targeting seniors: a high divorce rate sends many older Americans back into the dating world; men and women are remaining active well into their 80's and 90's; and many seniors, widowed and suddenly alone, seek companionship. Being able to quickly and effectively "cast a wide net" while searching for a new friend can be very attractive to seniors. The online meeting process is quicker and easier than more traditional forms of meeting, such as church meet-and-greets; senior center dances; "set-ups" by "helpful" friends and family members; etc. An Internet dating site profile can often provide much more information about a potential companion than one can glean by regularly meeting with someone for weeks or even months. But there are downsides to online dating for seniors.
Online dating sites, with such easy anonymity, is a preferred medium of many con artists who approach seniors profiled on the site, gain their trust and then swindle them.
As I mentioned in my blog, "Seniors and Internet Safety", the FBI cites one of the reasons the elderly are commonly earmarked for scams and frauds is that those who grew up in the 1930's and 1940's were raised to be polite and trusting. It is very easy for online crooks to appear sincere and trustworthy at the safe distance of online communication. A quick review of various online forums displaying complaints about online dating sites proves not every person posting a profile or responding to a profile deserves your trust.
In 2009, PRWeb reported on a Google statistic showing that the search terms "online dating" and "free dating" were getting the most "hits" from online crooks in African countries. (Not every criminal in Africa can be a Somolian Pirate, afterall!) The review site, DatingMore.com, has devoted a full page to links warning about specific types of online dating scams. There are warning pages about Nigerian dating scams; Russian dating scams; e-mail addresses online dating scammers are known to use; a rogue's gallery of pictures used in the profiles of online dating con artists; the list goes on and on!

Don't Send Money

A typical ploy from an online dating fraudster, regardless of point-of-origin, is to approach a senior with a profile on an online dating site, strike up an online friendship and eventually write their new-found "cyber-pen-pal" and tell them they are short on money to pay this month's Internet service bill or online dating site subscription fee; they're afraid they won't be able to continue chatting online unless they find a way to raise $40 before the end of the week. This ploy may be used once or twice on a trusting senior; without warning the scam artist just disappears, leaving the online senior dater with a reduction of spirits and bank balance! Sometimes the scam is more sophisticated and the damages are potentially much greater.

Ways to Protect Yourself

In the world of online dating, seniors need to protect their hearts, their wallets and their personal safety by following a few sound pieces of advice:

  • Verify the identity of a potential "match" as intricately as possible. If the profile of an online dating "match" does not include a photo, ask for one. If there is only one photo and your new "match" continues to refuse or evade requests for additional photos, chances are the "match" is an imposter.

  • Create a separate e-mail account for use as the contact e-mail address with both the online dating site and with any online "matches".

  • Use a post office box or mail service box as the billing address for your cell phone. Never use your home phone as the contact number with the online dating service or with new-found "matches".

  • When creating a profile for the online dating website, or when e-mailing and communicating with new "matches", keep yourself on a first-name basis until you're absolutely certain the "match" is a legitimate online dating participant.

  • Never let your new "match" send you a personality quiz or some other survey to fill out "for fun" or to "see how compatible" you two may be. Many online dating scams involve this ploy; the quiz or survey is loaded with highly personal questions, the answers to which allowing a clever con artist to build a solid credit profile of you.

  • Never reveal your home address or any other personal information (birthplace, mother's maiden name, your full name, etc.) to a new-found "match" until you're absolutely certain of their legitimacy and trustworthiness.

Online dating for seniors is here to stay; for the most part, the fun, ease-of-use and effectiveness of the process makes that a good news issue. However, there is nothing wrong with exercising some caution in the process. Remember what a boxing referee advises in his pre-fight instructions: "Protect yourselves at all times!"